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“Facing Truth – the First Step”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11
2 Peter 3:8-9
Mark 1:1-8

 

Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 …See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

 

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

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

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

 

 

These infamous words of scripture, “Comfort, comfort, Oh my people”…they cause my heart to sing, strait away.  I am transported into Handel’s Messiah, just like that.

And famous they should be, because they are gospel!  They are good news!

But what we oft’ fail to notice is the Lord’s discipline, which precedes this voice of glad tidings.  The message of comfort is precisely so entirely comforting BECAUSE it comes on the heals of suffering.  It comes on the heals of sleeping in the beds we’ve made for ourselves.  It comes after we are eating our words, after we have our foots in our mouths, after we are ashamed and exposed.

God’s light reveals truth.  And truth shows both our beauty and our haggardly appearance.  We have both.  And by the rules of this world alone, we are stuck, beholden to our own sins, trapped in the cycles of sin and death, willing to do good but seemingly powerless to do it!

And THIS is the place into which the good news comes. 

 

Amid injustice, amid pain and suffering, amid disconnect, amid dissension,…
Amid othering, amid coldness and cruelty, amid oppression and rampant fear…
Jesus comes,
a little baby.
And the earth breaths a sigh, the heaven’s burst forth, and both near and far God’s inbreaking is on display.

 

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that time is but a moment to God.  What we may perceive as God’s slowness to act, is in fact God’s desire that ALL might be saved.  God is patient – more than any of us can comprehend – for God wills that all might come to repentance and enter into that fullness of life!

And so God WAITs until the fullness of time – until the right time.
AND – to aid those still needing a change of heart, still needing a nudge, still needing to grow in humility, God sends John the Baptist.

 

John the Baptist lives in ways most unconventional.  Some only come to see him in order to gawk.  But he is doing the unsettling work.  He is helping folks connect with their yearning, their need, THE REALITIES OF WHO THEY TRULY ARE, fluorescent lights ON.

No wonder some didn’t like him.
No wonder his life would be cut short by a powerful couple who did not like the truth he’d publicly spoken about them…

He spoke truth to power – bringing the things we hide in the dark, out into the light.

 

For it is in the light, that we may find healing…
IF we do not retreat into darkness: defending ourselves, denying the truth, spinning the facts, controlling the news, cutting off the heads of those who speak what we’re intent on hiding.

Because if we think we have no sin,
the truth is not in us.

And where there is no truth there is no life.

 

Christ has come that we might have life,
and have it to THE FULL. 

The full

 

God is not content with facades.
God is not pleased by our outward shows of holiness.
God is not impressed by our score-keeping:  one-upping one another, judging ourselves by one another (and one another by ourselves). We might as well be arguing over various shades of gray; it’s ALL gray.
We have ALL sinned.
We are ALIKE sinners before a Holy God.

And until we come to that realization, we cannot begin to perceive our need for Christ.
And so God sent John the Baptist. 

 

Now, there are those in your life, and in mine,
who tweak your nerves.
There are those in your life, and in mine,
around whom you behave your worst.
There are those who point out your faults,
whether openly or covertly,
And despite our deep desires to be done with these individuals,

God has promised us blessing THROUGH all things.  God can use these moments, these folks, these circumstances as our teachers, our friends.  Around them, we learn more about ourselves.  Our growing edges are made plain, our sensitivities exposed, our triggers on display.

 

And in this way, we oft’ serve as John the Baptists for one another. 

 

Every moment, every person, every circumstance presents us with a chance:  to lean into reality or to retreat, to accept the world on its own terms or to deny it, to accept one another as they are or to try to control them.  When we allow our God-given feelings – especially those angry, uglier ones – to teach us, we too step into the light.  We too allow ourselves to be exposed, as in fluorescent light.

And we have the opportunity to engage the truths about ourselves, others, and the world; or to hide from them. 

 

But if we trust that God is using all things for good in our lives,
then we begin to look for the lessons, the truths.

If we believe that God has given us our feelings and that they are inherently good,
we can make peace in ourselves and allow them to teach us.

And if we believe that Christ is coming still today,
that God is present and alive today,
then we are ever on watch, ever seeking, ever waiting.

 

 

Who may God have sent into your life to be a John the Baptist?

You may be drawn to them, as were the multitudes who traveled out to the wilderness from the city to be baptized by him.
You may be repulsed by them, and come all that way from the city just to gawk and make fun.
You may feel threatened by them because they expose truth.

 

But God has sent them.
God has allowed them.

And in these circumstances you might rather avoid, God is providing you the chance to prepare the way of the Lord, by listening for God’s voice of truth and turning from sin. 

 

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our hearts?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our minds?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our openness, in our listening for God – even in the faces of those who irritate us?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord? 

 

There was a good reason God sent John the Baptist ahead:  we don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, we don’t like to sit with our failures, we don’t like to get real with ourselves or others about our shortcomings, we DO NOT LIKE to change under fluorescent lights.

But when we listen to the voices of John the Baptists,
when we look ourselves over in honesty and truth, in the mirrors of our changing rooms,
we are made ready: 
ready for God-with-us! 

 

So repent! Let us turn from our life-diminishing, truth-denying, sin-sabotaged ways, and prepare the way of Christ, the Lord. 

 

 

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PRAYER                (Psalm 85:8-9a)

Let me hear what You, Lord God, will speak,
for You will speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to You in their hearts.
Surely your salvation is at hand for those who fear you!

“The One God of All”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Genesis 21:8-21

 

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.

 

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

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I’ve always found this story rather distressing.  In age-old feelings of jealousy, it appears Sarah decides Hagar and her son should go.  It says she didn’t want Ishmael to inherit with her own son Isaac.

In a land of plenty, in this family with no other heirs, Sarah’s jealousy is most disturbing; why can’t she share?  Does she not trust Isaac will have enough?  …Even though we are told that Abraham is a rich man?  Is this a class war, where she doesn’t want her son playing and associating with Abraham’s son by her slave Hagar?  Or could it be anger and resentment, since – as soon as Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child – we are told Hagar gloats and looks down on Sarah.  After all, Hagar had surpassed Sarah in her apparent “womanhood” with Abraham, or so the culture would have said.  There was (and even still is) a lot of shame wrapped in a woman’s inability to bear children.

 

But even more disturbing:  wasn’t it Sarah’s idea all along that Abraham sleep with Hagar in order that he might have a descendant that way?  And now she wants to undo what she did?  This feels audacious and cold.  And yet, as judgmental as I feel toward Sarah in this moment, what options did a wife have in those days?  Women were valued by their ability to produce heirs, and this was something she could not yet do.  She was nearing a century of life, without the blessing of having her own child.  Perhaps she turned to her servant Hagar, as her way of trying to fulfill her wifely duties.

 

Whatever Sarah’s feelings or her reasons, we hear that Abraham is greatly distressed by Sarah’s wish to send off Ishmael.  So God speaks into this moment and directs Abraham to do as Sarah wishes.

And so, despite his distress, Abraham does what he has done before.  He believes God.  He obeys.  He sends Hagar off with Ishmael and only bread and a skin of water by which to survive.

But God has told Abraham that God will indeed make a nation of Ishmael also.  So not only will Ishmael survive, but it would seem that he will indeed thrive.  He too will become numerous, having many descendants.  And so Abraham obeys.

 

And this is when we look upon the dire situation in which Hagar finds herself and her son – with no more water, and expecting the end for she and her child.  She leaves Ishmael underneath a bush, farther off, so she might not have to witness the death of her child.

But just as God speaks with Abraham when he is distressed of soul, so an angel of God speaks to Hagar in this moment of deepest despair.  The angel tells her not to fear; that God has heard the cries of her son, and that God will actually make a great nation from Ishmael.  Hagar is to go back to her child and hold him fast in her hand.  And when she obeys, as Abraham had done, God opens her eyes and she sees a well.  She goes and refills the empty skin full of fresh water, and she offers this water of new life to her son.

 

Can you imagine the emotional journey Hagar has been on?  Can you imagine being someone’s servant, their slave?  Can you imagine that someone telling you to sleep with her husband?  Can you imagine the fears that must have entered her mind?

Can you imagine the position in which she finds herself?  Truly she appears at the mercy of her masters.  She does what they will.  She sleeps with Sarah’s husband.  She bears his child.  And when tensions grow between she and Sarah and Sarah wants her gone, she is cast out to fend for herself in lands and cultures where not having a tribe means certain death.

 

But this is not the end of Hagar’s story.  God has a plan for Ishmael as well.

Hagar’s story, tragic on so very many levels, does not end with the death of she and her son in the wilderness.

…For God hears,
God speaks,
And God provides.

 

To this woman, used and abused, God speaks of a future for her son that is magnificent and hopeful.

 

Now I must say that I am still very uneasy with this story.

It seems that, as in so much of life, the rich get richer and the poor poorer, the powerful remain strong while the powerless are jerked around and mistreated.

 

But I am also encouraged by this story.

For God does not treat Hagar and Ishmael as disposable, as trash, as pawns.

For apart from Abraham and Sarah, Haagar and Ishmael will prosper.  Their stories intertwine, but her story branches off here in its own direction.

God is with Ishmael, and he becomes strong with the bow.  He lives in the wilderness, and he marries a woman his mother finds for him from her homeland of Egypt.

They survive.

And they prosper. 

 

This is the character of the God we serve.

Imperfect servants of God, Abraham and Sarah,

They are still used by God.

God remembers that they are made of dust.

 

And yet God’s love doesn’t stop with the family of Abraham who he has chosen.

No God’s presence and love follows Hagar and her son Ishmael,

even into the lonely and vulnerable wilderness.

 

God has mercy on Sarah, who could never bear a child – her one main duty as a wife.  And God works in the life of Hagar, providing for she and her son in the darkest place of their lives, that they may one day form a nation of their own.

 

 

It is a common misconception that God’s choosing of Abraham means God does not love everyone else.  But it has always been for the sake of the whole world that God chose Abraham.  It has always been that THROUGH HIM all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  Abraham is blessed TO BE a blessing…to the rest of the world. 

For God’s love doesn’t stop with Abraham.  God’s love can be shown and grown through a servant like Abraham who listens, believes, and follows.  Through his obedience the families of the earth will find blessing.  But God’s love is for the whole creation, the people of every land and place, all those who wander and run themselves ragged in fear, like sheep without a shepherd.  God has mercy on us, despite our sins, and graces us with undeserved favor and blessing.

 

THIS is the God we serve:
The God who speaks to the rich nomad
and the spurned and abused servant girl,
making them both ancestors of great nations.

Despite all our human-divisions of power and vulnerability, gender and opportunity, wealth and poverty, …master and servant,

GOD is God to all.

 

We are alike,
beloved by the Most High God.

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

On this Father’s Day, let us speak aloud the names of those who are and were father figures to us. 

                                                (Psalm 72, excerpts)

Give to your Leaders good judgement, O God, and a sense of what is right.  May they govern your people with justice and do right for those who are powerless.  May the mountains bring peace for the people, and the hills bring forth justice.  May they defend the poor among the people, save the children of those who are needy, and crush the oppressor.  May they endure as long as the sun, like the moon through all generations; like the rains that fall on the early crops, like the showers that water the earth.  May justice flower in their days, and peace till the moon is no more. May they have pity on the week and the powerless; may they save the lives of the poor.  May they redeem them from oppression and violence and regard their blood as precious.  Let grain be abundant through-out the land, and wave on the the tops of the mountains.  Let the crops blossom like Lebanon and the people flourish in the cities like the grass of the fields.

(Iona Abby Worship Book)

Liberator Christ, you came into a holy place and read the sacred word about sight for the blind folk and freedom for prisoners.  Come to this place now.  Read these words to us till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked, and we can see the world as it is, and as it could be; till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously, and the visions of the young are valued, and the potential of the old is released; till you Kingdom is celebrated everywhere, and your church is good news to the poor.

Amen.