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“Vision Unimpaired”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 40:27-31
Deuteronomy 34:1-12

 

Isaiah 40:27-31

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

 

Can you imagine a life like Moses’?

 

The different chapters hardly seem like they should hold together in one person’s story!

He is born to a Hebrew family, amid genocide – the killing of all the Hebrew baby boys by the Egyptian government at Pharaoh’s command.  He is finally abandoned into a carefully lined basket left in the bullrushes along the side of the Nile, his sister left to keep watch, for he has become too big and loud to keep quiet and hidden.

Moses is then found by one of Pharaoh’s own daughters.  There he gets his name “Moses” – as one drawn out of water.  He is first raised by his own family – as his sister quickly offers her family as one to care for the boy while he nurses and is young, and the princess accepts.

Then he moves in the palatial grounds where he grows up among the Egyptian elite, as one of them, the princess’s adopted son.

But this time reaches its abrupt ending, as he loses his temper with an Egyptian task-master, beating a Hebrew slave.  Moses is enraged at the injustice, rises up, and kills the Egyptian.  And for this he knows he must flee.  And so he does.  He flees into the wilderness.

And it is there that he finds Herders and Farmers.  And he finds a woman whom he marries as his wife.  And there he lives a good long time.

…until he sees that bush on fire – on fire yet not burning up!

There is where GOD speaks to him.

There is where GOD calls him back to Egypt – to be used by God to set the Hebrews free.

 

And so this man…

born of a Hebrew slave,
narrowly escaping infant death by adoption into Pharaoh’s own household,
enraged by the mistreatment of his people, the Hebrews, he kills an abuse and must flee.

This Hebrew, raised an Egyptian, murderer of an Egyptian slave-master over the Hebrews, then flees these disparate parts of his past and takes refuge in the wilderness, tending flocks, starting a family.

He’s become a family man, a quiet man, an invisible man, an immigrant, a refugee…
Until GOD calls him back,
back to his past and everything stirring, everything enraging, everything unjust and evil.

GOD calls him back IN ORDER TO lead the Hebrew people OUT, out to life and freedom and a future of hope.

 

And so this Hebrew, Egyptian, Murderer, Immigrant, Refugee, Husband…

is CALLED by God. 

 

This man –
already having lived decades of three different lives entirely –
is called to a new chapter:
one of miracles, signs, terrible wonders, great evil, and great deliverance.

 

And if that doesn’t already sound like enough, he is THEN called to lead the people AFTER their deliverance – another whole skill-set ENTIRELY.  He must seek God’s face for the people.  He must convey God’s Words to the people.  He must lead the people in their long, arduous journey through the wilderness.

He faces complaining.
He faces mutiny.
He faces idolatry.
He faces utter faithlessness.
He faces disobedience.
He faces disputes.
He faces good intentions and frail follow-through.

He is now in the role of pastor, president, interceder, judge, and navigator.

 

-A Hebrew-born, Egyptian raced, righteously indignant murdering, Immigrant, Refugee, Husband, Prophet, Diplomat, Freedom Fighter, Navigator, Interceder, Spiritual Guide, President, Pastor, and Judge-  

Ughhhhhh.

It makes me tired thinking about it.
It makes me tired saying it.

How about you?

 

And yet,
in Deuteronomy 34,
to the end of his life,
Moses’ vision is unimpaired.  His vigor has not waned… to the end. 

 

Wow

 

Judging by Moses’ outrage at the merciless, Egyptian slave-master,…

Given Moses’ fury when returning from long communion with God on the mountain – to break the stone tablets of the word,…

Judging by Moses’ slamming of the stick upon the rock – in anger at the faithless, entitled, short-sited, ungrateful complaining of the people who wanted water.  Right.  Then…

I’m guessing Moses was a passionate man.

I’m guessing he had two settings – on and off.  When he was in the wilderness, he could turn it off.  We don’t have any stories of him fighting off nomads or raiders.  But when in the middle of the cultural-political-enslaving-exploiting-murderous drama, in which he was raised and from which he had been spared, he could not turn it off.  His sense of justice was acute.  His anger would swell.  And when he watched as the people swiftly forgot God’s faithfulness, deliverance, signs, and wonders – no wonder, he lost his cool.  He felt things deeply.  He had a keen sense of right and wrong.

 

And speaking from experience, this is a hard road to walk.  To open ones eyes to injustice; to be present to the oppressed, the violated, the exploited; to confront fear-filled and death-dealing regimes of power IS EXHAUSTING.

To deliver, to lead, to teach, to guide…  To console and exhort, to seek God’s face and speak God’s words…  and yet be met with such short God-memory, such flighty faithfulness, and such ungrateful demand is outrageous.  Moses knows this bad behavior won’t fly with God, and Moses can hardly contain himself.  He breaks things.  He hits things…sometimes.  And yet he implores God to give them yet one more chance…again and again.

It is amazing.  Crazy amazing.

 

I am not endorsing Moses’ break-downs.  I am not excusing them.  God didn’t.

It’s because of his outburst smacking that rock with his stick – from which water gushed onto the complaining people – that he is not allowed to enter into the promised land.  He only sees it with his eyes…his eyes which have not diminished, which have not become impaired.  He gets to SEE the promised land, but he doesn’t get to enter.

 

No Moses’ bad behavior – his murder, his outbursts – hitting and breaking things – none of this was okay.

But if we, for even a minute, imagine the road he walked, I imagine few – if any – of us could have done as well!  Could we have walked as long or as far?  Could we have led for so long, amid such stress and turmoil, conflict and complaining?  Could we have worked until we passed – not retiring?  Could we have worn so many different hats?  Could we have returned to the land of our oppression & anger & fear, in order that others might be set free?  Could we have confronted the mightiest power of the land?  Could we have stood, our arms raised in obedience, in the face of the in-coming Eyptian army, while the people walk across a lake-bottom by foot, chased by horses and chariots?

 

Moses did all these things and far more.  These are only the stories that have reached us.
And yet when he died, he was still full of vigor, his vision unimpaired. 

 

And I wonder, is this the kind of eternal life – quality of life – that God gives? 

Could it be that – as we obey, as we press in, as we face our fears – that God gives us wisdom and unimagined strength?

Could it be that service to God is the best kind of life we can have?

 

Despite all that stress and wear, Moses remained full of vigor. 
By reports in fact, he shined.  He shone with the light of God – for he spent time, face to face with God – and so he glowed. 

 

Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, scripture proclaims.
They shall mount up with wings, as eagles.
They shall run and not grow weary.
They shall walk and not faint.

They shall walk and not faint. 

 

May WE be so bold,

So attentive,

So obedient,

So faithful,

So returning to God,

So taking refuge in God,

That WE TOO GLOW.

 

May WE TOO know

That eternal life – that quality of life
that makes life worth living
that is the nectar and sweetness of life.  

 

Here I am, Lord. 

Is it I, Lord? 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER                                                                       (Ted Loder)

Gentle me,
Holy One,
into an unclenched momento
a deep breath,
a letting go
of heavy experiences,
of dead certainties,

that,
softened by the silence,
surrounded by the light,
and open to the mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
upheld by the unfathomable,
entranced by the simple,
and filled with the joy

that is you.

                                                                                    (Tomas H. Tellez, Nicaragua)

Lord, free us from falling into the sin of believing that the slavery in Egypt is better than the struggles in the desert.

                                                                                    (Frederick Buechner, adapted)

Lord Jesus Christ, help us not to fall in love with the night that covers us but through the darkness to watch for you as well as to work for you; to dream and hunger in the dark for the light of you.  Help us to know that the madness of God is saner than men and that nothing that God has wrought in this world was ever possible.

Give us back the great hope again that the future is yours, that not ever the world can hide you from us forever, that at the end the One who came will come back in power to work joy in us stronger even than death.

(Psalm 19, 13-17)

Turn, O Lord! How long?  Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let your favor, O God, be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

  (Daniel J. McGill)
Bless, O God, my enemies with sunshine.
Upon their crops come shining.
May green grass grow in their meadows,
Sweet crops within their fields;
Send rain upon their soil,
Fill their children with joy,
Bless their grandparents with peace.
May every woman of them know delight;
May ever man of them be loved.
May the birds of their air never hear bombs;
May their rivers run clean, their air smell sweet in the morning.

May all things with life be blessed!
For if my enemy is not blessed,
How can I, O Lord, be blessed?
How can I?
For earth shall cry if they shall weep,
And I shall cry if she is hurt.

 

 

Sending                                   (Numbers 6:22-26)

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

 

“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?!?!

 

 

“And Still Life Emerges”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:7-12
Matthew 3:1-12

 

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

 

Romans 15:7-12

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

 

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


 

 

I am struck by this image of a branch growing out of the roots of a tree – the stump of the tree of Jesse, scripture says.

I’ll read you this excerpt from the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by Peter Wohlleben.

12'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 112'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 2

It is amazing that a tree felled four to five hundred years earlier would still be alive…at the roots.  As a scientist with understanding of trees, it is even more amazing, because you know that the green color in these roots was only possible by chlorophyll, which this stump could not possibly create, having no leaves.

It became clear to this Arborist that this stump was being fed by neighboring trees…all these many four to five hundred years.

What a mystery!

Understanding how trees are connected by a web of fungi underneath the ground we walk on, is an emerging area of scientific research.  We had no idea before that trees were interconnected.  We had no idea that when we planted a tree in our yards, that we were asking it to survive on its own, without a community, without a support network developed over hundreds and thousands of years in a forest.

 

 

And so we return to this scripture, where we hear of a shoot coming out of the stump of the tree of Jesse, a branch growing from the roots of this stump…

Jesse was the father of David, King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” scripture tells us.  And David’s throne was promised to be forever.  But how could that be?

Over time, Israel falls to the Neo Assyrian empire.  Judah alone remains, the smaller, less densely populated remnant of the Jewish people.  But then there is Babylon, and despite Jeremiah’s warnings, the people are carried away into captivity.  And the temple and the land are laid waste, baron and devoid of life.

 

So far, God’s promise that there will never cease to be a descendant of David on the throne, seems to be a false prophecy.  There is no one on the throne of David.

 

But God calls Zechariah to return to the land and rebuilt the temple.  And after that, the first resettlements of Jews occur to the holy land.

And then there is King Herod, who makes the temple mount bigger and better, and who rebuilds the temple, more glorious and magnificent that it had ever been before.

 

So, Israel seems to have hope again.  But their hope is starting to be placed in the might of architecture.  And their light is dim, with injustice and corruption rampant.

 

How can they be a light to the nations, if they themselves are barely shining? 

 

And this is the Jewish nation into which Jesus is born.

 

Born of a woman who became pregnant by the Spirit of God, out of wed-lock.  Born to a family from the po-dunk town of Nazareth.  Born obscurely, in the shed for animals.  Laid to rest in a feed trough….

This Christ came out of nowhere.  Though a descendant of David, his lineage took turns through the most unholy of places, like the Moabite Naomi and Ruth.  He was, by all worldly means, a nobody of nobodies.

…And yet, no star has shone so brightly, before or since, to mark the birth of this holy child.  And yet, there were those who recognized him and rejoiced greatly in his coming, like Anna and Simeon.   And yet, the wise men of the day traveled from far off places to come and pay him homage.

What mystery!

Indeed, a branch grew from the roots of the stump of Jesse.

 

Though light and hope and justice were dim, GOD was still at work, working all things for good, coming to this world as a little child, that ALL might finally know God’s love.

All along, this promise that David’s throne would have no end – it wasn’t for the sake of Israel alone, it was always for the sake of the whole world.

And despite the many times Israel stumbled and fell…  Despite the times they were defeated and exiled…  Despite the rise and fall of their kings and prophets…  Despite the good and the evil of their religious elite…  God showed up.

 

Even when they had been cut down.  Even when their trunk had rotted away.  Even when all that remained were the roots, even then life emerged.  Even then, hope sprang up.  Even then, God still came, and lived among us.

What joy!  That even when we have made a thorough mess of all God’s good gifts to us, Christ can still redeem.  Christ can still save.  God still makes whole, what has been broken.

 

And so let us come, in our brokenness and incompleteness.

Let us come, with our failures and imperfection.

Let us come, even after death has stolen from us all that was beautiful and good.

 

For our God is not finished with us yet.

And our God can make life spring up, out of death.

Halleluia!!

“From Death to Life, Destruction to Construction”

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

 

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!


 

While in Jerusalem this past spring, I was amazed at just how many different people actually do flock to that city.  People of so many different faiths come to seek God. It was truly a melting pot, like none I’ve ever witnessed before.   For all the hyper-militant, negative images of Israel we hear in the news, I found it to be one of the most tolerant places I have ever been.

The streets are narrow.  The traffic is immense.  Many of the residents and visitors are devotedly faithful and diligent in following various religious laws and observances.  Jerusalem and all of Israel has a challenge like few other nations have.  The faith of many of its residents prohibits them from eating various foods, dressing in various clothing, associating with various people, working on various days, and even touching folks of the opposite gender.  How does one make room in such a crowded and diverse city for this faithful difference?

Unlike America where we segregate by neighborhoods and suburbs, churches and schools, in Israel there is truly no space to be had between groups.  They also have various quarters of the city for predominantly Christian, predominantly Armenian, predominantly Muslim and Arabic, and predominantly Orthodox, but these exist shoulder to shoulder.  It is impossible to navigate Jerusalem without rubbing shoulders with all these people – many of whom have very widely differing and fiercely held views and ways of living.

Tolerance is not merely an ideal held.  Tolerance is a routine exercised with every passing day.  At certain times you give up your rights to do something, so others can do it in the way they see fit.  And then they give up their rights at other times for you.  There is an ever-present social and ethnic agility in living in the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

We got to speak with a former general who worked on the wall that divides Israel and Palestine.  All my strongly held, uninformed beliefs melted away, as I listened to how this soul sought to navigate what it meant to secure a country so diverse and so despised in the middle east.

Especially fascinating to me was his story of how they designed technology to sniff out explosives.  Their airport is always on high security, as they are viewed by most of their geographic neighbors as intruders and infidels profaning their holy area.  There is a word for this concept, but it escapes me at present.  Since Israel is on so many people’s black list, they have had develop new technologies and to exercise more vigilance to prevent war and their own genocide.

They needed a way to detect non-metal explosives.  But the best way is using dogs, and dogs are widely seen as unclean and offensive in Arabic culture.  If they have dogs walking the airport or manning the check-in locations, they will cause great offense.  And so they developed technology where they funnel travelers through a maze area and vacuum the air from that maze into a room where the dogs are.  And this works!  They are able to flag non-metal explosives moving through the airport – without creating offense.

 

How many of you would go through that added trouble to trying not to cause offense?

How many of us have developed new systems and technologies, all to minimize offense to a minority group?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect that group to suck it up and understand?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect them to bend to the majority’s or the powerfuls’ preferences?

I don’t think we would have designed such technology in America.  Here I’d been judging Israel for so many years as being intolerant, and it was in Israel that I was seeing tolerance lived out more tangibly than I’d ever seen it before.

 

Now I speak of my own awakening and bits of transformation in Israel, while understanding that there is far more at play there than I could ever see or perceive.  No one side of these entrenched battles is wholly correct.  But I found God putting my ignorance and judgement in check.  And it is a good feeling when our facades and false narratives begin to fall away in the light of truth.

 

I bring up my experience in Israel because in the passage from Isaiah today, we read of a time when all shall flock to Israel.  It will be lifted up truly as a city on a hill, and God will make all things right in light of the truth.  No longer will nation be lifted up against nation.  No longer will swords and guns, bombs and missiles, drones and flaming tires be raised against one another.  But rather, all our weapons of mass destruction will be repurposed into generative, life-sustaining, food-growing tools.

 

What hope.  In a land that has not known peace, there will be peace.

Can you imagine?

 

This passage from the Old Testament speaks of a time when Israel will fulfill its purpose and the Kingdom of God will reign in hearts and minds, families and communities, tribes and nations.  It is a wonderful vision, and what amazed me was how much of this has already begun.

People already stream to the holy land.  People come from far and wide to meet with God and be transformed in Israel and the Old City.  And the vast majority of these people of differing faiths and backgrounds, values and ways of life, somehow have learned a way to live in remarkable harmony, for all their diversity, rubbing of shoulders, and bumping into one another.

This prophecy has already begun coming true in Israel and in pockets all around the globe.

And yet, more than ever, we still cry out to God asking, “How long, O Lord!?!”  We still witness injustice and suffering.  We will watch as nation rises up against nation.

 

And so Isaiah’s words are also for us.

 

There will come a time when nation will no longer rise up against nation.  God will live among us and be our judge.  Swords and missiles, bombs and drones will be destructed to create tools for growing the food that sustains us all.

Can you imagine??

On a hill just outside the Old City of Jerusalem is a monument with the verse Isaiah 2:4 inscribed in Hebrew.  It reads,

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

And just below are old iron weapons of warfare that are being misshapen and made into wheels and plows for tilling the earth.

This is the photo featured above.

 

 

I want to leave you with a song.  It is by an American Jew raised in NY.  Though strictly raised, he rebelled against his upbringing and faith at a young age.  But his journey away also led him back, and his faith matured and became his own.  He sings a song with a vision much like Isaiah’s.

I invite you to look it up and listen, reading the words here.  Let us join together in praying for this day to comewhere we shall no longer make war anymore.

 

One Day
Matisyahu

Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I’m breathing
Then I pray
Don’t take me soon
‘Cause I am here for a reason

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

It’s not about
Win or lose
‘Cause we all lose
When they feed on the souls of the innocent
Blood-drenched pavement
Keep on moving though the waters stay raging

In this maze you can lose your way (your way)
It might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you, no way (no way)

Sometimes in my tears I drown (I drown)
But I never let it get me down (get me down)
So when negativity surrounds (surrounds)
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate

One day we’ll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like
One day [4x]

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

“The Smallest Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 65:17-25
John 20:1-18

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

 

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


 

This is a wild story.  It’s the kind of story that makes one wonder if the teller of the tale has gotten any sleep, whether or not they’re delirious, whether they’re high, or just how connected they are to reality.  That is why the presence of these other believers at the scene is so critical.  What Mary Magdalene experiences is astonishing.  It is inconceivable.

She goes from the worst kind of grief; …to anger and sadness that Jesus’ body appears to have been removed; …to surprise, disbelief, relief, and joy to find the Teacher speaking with her.  And this is the kind of radical joy that changes everything.  It’s the kind of surprise that reminds you you do not know everything but that there is infinitely more to life than you can perceive.  It’s the kind of wonderment that squarely reminds you that God is God and you are not.

Can you imagine?

 

How many of you have been in mourning?

How many of you are there now?

How many of you have witnessed atrocity?

How many of you have listened to stories that make your heart feel like it will burst?

Who among you has witnessed the deep darkness in human hearts, both in yours and in others’?

 

For everyone who has despaired.

For everyone who has felt fear and isolation.

For everyone who has witnessed loss of life.

For everyone who has seen fear lay waste to what was vibrant.

For everyone who has watched as the innocent suffer.

For everyone who have listened as evil and sin claim the day…

 

This resurrection is for you.

For you.

 

For there is infinitely more to life than we could ever perceive.

And the smallest light will pierce the blackest night.

 

There is more to life, and there is more to death, than we can conceive.

But if we trust the Maker of the stars

…the Author of the love that glimmers in eyes of our beloved ones

…the Creator of the Sun that energizes us by day and soothes us reflecting off the moon at night.

If we trust the Maker of earthworm who breaks down matter to make earth and till the soil

If we trust the One who made the ground that filters our water making it pure again

…the One who makes the land bring forth good food to nourish and sustain…

THIS One makes good things out of the dust.

THIS One summons life after death.

THIS One is ever remaking the world that we destroy.

THIS One is ever reaching out to hearts who have turned away.

THIS One is ever inviting hearts to repay evil with good.

This One is ever working ALL things for good.

 

This One

 

While in Israel, we got to speak with many different people, some famous, some simple and unknown.  One of these folks was an unassuming, quiet gentleman named Yuval Roth.  A Jewish man living in Israel, he lost his brother one day in ’93 when a group of extremists picked him to give him a ride, while posing as Orthodox Jews.  Yuval would never see his brother again.

And after such tragedy and loss, one can imagine a multitude of ways his story could have gone.  But at some point, he was compelled to help his Palestinian neighbor reach medical treatment in Israel.  And this started a movement.  He continued assisting Palestinians in crossing the borders to access life-saving medical treatment.  And others began joining him such that now it consists of thousands of Israeli volunteers who, just last year, provided over 10,000 rides to over 20,000 Palestinian patients, most of them children.

He received a text from one of the Palestinian men he helped.  It read, “You saved me two times.  The first time from cancer.  The second time from extreme hate.”

 

 

Our God is the author of new beginnings, over and over and over again.

Jesus Christ modeled for us a forgiveness beyond anything we’d ever witnessed.

And our God, in Jesus Christ, has shown us just how far God’s love extends.

It is inconceivable, uncontainable….

 

Our God is not just out for the good and the righteous.  Our God came for the lost and those in deepest darkness.

 

So when you are tempted to believe there is no hope

-that evil has destroyed all you love

-that injustice has stolen your future and your joy

-that these dry, dry bones can no longer live…

REMEMBER, that the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness.

Jesus rose from the dead and is alive in you and in me.

God is still working miracles – making goodness from evil, calling life out of death.

And you, dear ones, are shining in the light and love of the Lord.

 

 

Shine on!

Remain steadfast in hope.

Believe.

For this is the GOD we serve!!