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“Holy Spirit In Our Lives”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Kings 2:1-14
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

 

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


 

In these weeks leading up to and following Pentecost, we’ve heard stories of how the disciples learn how to listen to God’s Spirit directing them – on what to say and what to do.  It’s a prayerful way of being, where God is like your internal GPS – continually redirecting you.

 

Today we heard a story about Elijah and Elisha, when Elijah is about to be taken into heaven and Elisha asks that he might receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, as a parting gift.  In this Old Testament story it is understood that this gift of the spirit is how both Elijah and Elisha are empowered by God to do things such as parting the water, to walk on dry ground.

So we have heard these stories that show God’s Spirit to lead us, similar to an internal GPS, if we are of a prayerful mind to hear God’s voice to our spirits.  We’ve heard stories of how God’s Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in other languages they’d never even studied before.  We hear this story of how God’s Spirit empowered both Elijah and then Elijah to do things like parting the water in a lake – so they could walk across it on dry ground.  And in this passage from Galatians, we hear of how God’s Spirit grows within us all the best qualities – like patience, kindness, gentleness, love, and self-control.

This Holy Spirit life is full of surprises!  We don’t have to know the way to go; God can guide us.  We don’t have to know how to do everything; God can anoint us with skills we didn’t have before and cannot even explain.  We are not always bound by the rules of nature; God who has power over all nature can make mountains move and bodies of water part.  And we are not left to our own devices to try to be better and overcome all our demons and our temptations, but God’s Spirit grows within us patience and peace and love and self-control…

 

This is awesome!!!

 

Now for all you skeptics, I respect you.  I get that hearing these as nice stories is one thing but believing life can really happen this way is altogether another thing.  Perhaps God moved in one way back then and another way now.

But I do want to invite you to peer outside the boundaries of your belief system for just a moment and consider – what might you see and experience, if you only believe?

Believing opens us.  It opens us to outcomes we cannot fully control.  It opens us to the possibility of being amazed, and it opens us to the possibility of being disappointed or downright scammed.

We don’t want to be taken advantage of.  We don’t want to be scammed.  We don’t want to let our guard down, only to be disappointed.  And God’s Spirit is not like a genie in a bottle; we don’t just get whatever we wish for.  It’s not a ticket to unlimited blessing and prosperity.

But I do believe the Spirit is beckoning us toward our best lives.  I believe God is inviting us to step out of the shallow and into the deep.   God is inviting us into a fullness of life that we will never walk in, unless we let go of our illusions of control and open ourselves to God.

 

Listen to “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

Tell me somethin’, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself
Longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
In the shallow, shallow
We’re far from the shallow now

 

Do you want to experience all the blessings and fullness of life God has prepared for you?

Do you want to know the power and presence of God in your regular, everyday life?

Do you want to see the answers of God to your prayers?

Do you want to be a channel of God’s power and love into the lives of those around you?

 

Our God is good.  Our God is beckoning.  Our God is inviting.

But we have to take a risk.

We have to exercise our faith – put it into practice – let the rubber meet the road.

We’ll never know just what our God can do…

We’ll never experience for ourselves the depth and breadth of God’s love for you and for me…

We’ll never see the deliverance of our God in our lifetimes…

Unless we step out of the shallow and into the deep

Unless we open ourselves to the Spirit of God IN OUR LIVES

Unless we listen and watch and pray…

Unless we step out.

 

Listen to “Something Beautiful” by Needtobreathe

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, …I can’t figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There’s only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire,

‘Cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I’m in reach
‘Cause I am down on my knees,

…Waiting for something beautiful
Oh,… something beautiful

And the water is risin’ quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can’t be sure when it will subside
So I won’t leave your side, no I can’t leave your side

In a daydream, I couldn’t live like this
I wouldn’t stop until I found something beautiful
When I wake up, and all I want, I have
Ya know it’s still not what I need

(Something beautiful)

 

You know what’s changed from the times of all these stories we read in the Bible?

So much has, indeed.  And thanks be to God for that!

But scripture actually says that in Christ, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh.  Christ also said that we will do even greater things than he did

 

So may we, of little faith, grow.

May we begin to dream God’s dreams.

May we begin to see God’s visions.

May we begin to hear God’s voice speaking to us, more and more.

May we open ourselves to God, leaving the shallow, stepping into the deep, and personally experience God’s power and presence to do astonishing and amazing things in our lives.

 

Do you believe?

“The Command, as Invitation”

Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15
Luke 6:38

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me;…

Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Luke 6:38

…Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.


 

This passage from Deuteronomy is interesting.  It talks about the tithe – giving the first fruits of one’s labors to God.  Now it isn’t as though they just set baskets out before an invisible God and left them there, no.  Their gifts to God were to be given to the Levites – the family of Israelites charged with teaching about God and leading the people in their relationship with God – to the aliens – those outsiders residing among them with little means, acceptance, or connection – to the widows – those women not permitted to work who had lost the man in their lives – and to orphans – obviously the children without parents and therefore a means of survival.

So their gifts to God were to go to those in professional service of God and to those in need in their communities.  All of these groups were those who could not own land, hold jobs, farm the land, etc.  All of these groups were those whose calling or circumstance in society made them dependent on the charity of others.

These gifts were the gifts of their labors.  They were the produce of the good land God was giving them to inhabit and tend.  But it wasn’t just any produce.  It was the first produce.

 

There is something holy and sacred about giving of one’s first fruits.  First fruits are long awaited.  They are anticipated.  They are watched and waited for.  Giving thanks and remembering the Giver of these good things is a holy and life-giving act.  And we are called to give thanks first, at the start.  We are not to wait till we have forgotten God’s work.  We are not to wait until we are satiated and feel secure.  We are not to give of our leftovers.

No, we are called to give of our first fruits.

We are called to give as this holy act of remembrance and gratitude.

We are called to remember that all we have has come from God

And to remember our calling to care for the outcast, the disenfranchised, the needy among us.  We are called to use these gifts to provide for those who serve us and our communities in remembering and being still before our God.

And we are called to do this first,

Before we know what will be,

…An act of trust.

 

God’s commandment to the people to bring their first fruits to God puts remembrance, gratitude, and trust at the center of their lives.  With each new season’s produce, they come before God to remember God’s deliverance and generous provision, and to make loving provision for those dependent on God for their daily bread.

 

What a loving commandment.

I imagine many have looked upon the tithe and giving to God similarly to how they’ve looked at paying taxes or paying for a service.  It may have felt like an obligation, or perhaps a nagging guilt.  But in this commandment is the wisdom of a parent, a parent who knows that we will never be happy and whole without gratitude.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us into a ritual of remembering all that the Lord has done for us.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that re-frames our labors and energies in the perspective that God is the one who has given us those skills; given us life and health; given us the air we breath, the land we walk, the earth we till and enjoy.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us to pay our gratitude forward in caring for others.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that reminds us we are not whole until all are made whole.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that challenges us to keep trusting God into the future, so that we don’t loose our peace in that endless fight to go and get ahead and succeed.

For those of us who hear and head this call to bring our first fruits, this is a holy and life-giving act.  It is truly an act of faith.  And in it we are bringing in the Kingdom of God – the world as God intends it to be – both in our lives and in the world around us.  When we give of our first fruits to God, we invite the Kingdom of God into lives and into our communities.

 

And how merciful is this commandment.

Notice the first sentence:  “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… and possess it, and settle in it…”  WHEN…

Unlike a tax that pays little head to where you are in the journey, this commandment is not one driven by greed.  It is not so God can store up or take from us.  It is not a commandment that disregards our station and place in life.

No these gifts are to be given in proportion to what we have received!  AND we are not asked to give from our emptiness but from what we have already been given.

God does not place this command on them while they are traveling as nomads, wandering through the desert.  No.  God gives them this command for their season of arriving, their season of provision, their season of receiving God’s good gifts.

It is precisely when we receive those long-awaited promises, that provision, those gifts, those breaks, that we become vulnerable to many sins.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to believe that we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is in those moments that we can forget, by whose grace and mercy, we have arrived.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to cling to the gifts and to forget the Giver.

It is in those moments that we are tempted to ask more of mere things, that they can ever give us – such as happiness, security, peace…

That God calls us back to gratitude.

 

And God’s invitation, God’s command, is precisely what the Doctor ordered.  It is precisely what we need, so that as we move forward in this new season of abundance, we do not forget who we are and whose we are.  We do not forget those on whose shoulders we stand.  And we continually, in each season, actively remember that all good things come from God.  And we remember that our future, as was the past, is ever in God’s hands.

We remember that God is God, and we are not. 

For peace and happiness, joy and security cannot be earned or bought.  The best gifts in life, come when we remember, give thanks, walk in faith, and pay it forward.

 

God’s command to bring our first fruits, is our loving parent’s invitation to the good life,

the promised land,

…the Kingdom of God on earth. 

“Blind Sight”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Kings 17:1-16
Luke 4:16-30

 

1 Kings 17:1-16

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

 

Luke 4:16-30

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


 

I love this passage about Jesus in the synagogue at his home town.  I love the passage he reads from Isaiah.  That passage has always resonated with me.

But this passage is loaded.  One minute Jesus is reading from the scroll of Isaiah and the next he is evading an angry mob of the villagers he grew up with, who are leading him out of town and to the edge of the cliff, that they might hurl him off it.

This is serious stuff.

 

What made them so angry?  Jesus has said so little.

But has he?

 

First off, after reading the part of Isaiah about how God’s Spirit is upon him to do all these good things, Jesus boldly says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled, in your hearing.”  Jesus is essentially claiming God’s power and presence with him to do good works among them.  Jesus is speaking the truth.

Everywhere else, folks are saying as much about him.  Everywhere he goes, folks are amazed at God’s presence in him, God’s works through him, God’s Word spoken to them.  But here, the crowd is harder to impress.  Still, at first, they are enjoying his words and feeling quite pleased.  But only a sentence or two more, and the whole dynamic shifts.

And why?  Jesus’ own explanation is that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.

And why is that?

I think it’s because we think we know the person.  We think we have them figured out.  There is not mystery.  There is no wonder.  We know who their parents are.  We know all their siblings.  We’ve been to their house.  What’s there to get so excited about?!?

 

Well, perhaps Jesus’ words so far wouldn’t have gotten him killed.  Perhaps they would have.  He’s definitely claiming to be a prophet, at the very least.  But it doesn’t sound blasphemous to them, as it would in later days.  No, I think what got this crowd all riled up is in the words that come next.  Jesus says,

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Here, Jesus alludes to two Old Testament stories.  These are scriptures the people would have known well.  Most likely these Israelite listeners would have heard them and wondered at God’s mighty works through this most famous prophet Elijah.  But Jesus points to another thread in these stories:  the fact that the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts were all OUTSIDE the nation of Israel, people from Lebanon and Syria.

The widow of Sidon (current-day Lebanon) and the leper from Syria are the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts here through Elijah, not any of the many lepers or widows from among the people of Israel.  Jesus hones in on this point.  And without words, the offense is palpable.  Jesus seems to directly point out the lack of faith of the people of Israel, and particularly his own hometown.  Instead Jesus is lifting up outsiders as models of faith.

The author of Hebrews has defined faith as,

“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

 

These hometown neighbors have known Jesus, his whole life.  They think they know him.   And so they have no faith.   And their lack of faith means that Jesus cannot perform any acts or wonders among them.  They are not in a position to believe or receive the working of God, standing in their midst.  And all because they think they see.  They think they know. 

 

Just as with Elijah, others are benefitting from God’s mighty works, because they have come in hope and faith.  They have come open.  They have come seeking.

And GOD meets them.

 

We are a community of faith.  We come from many different walks of life.  We come from different backgrounds and faith experiences.  Some of us are brand new to this place.  Others of us have been here since we were born.

But we all come to faith,

We all come to community,

We all come to church,

With our set of baggage.

 

Many of us have “been there, done that” so much, that we are sure we can predict an outcome with a fair amount of certainty.

But do we also realize that our predictions,

Can seal our fate?

Do we also realize that our foresight,

Can restrict our outcomes.

Do we also realize that our SEEING,

Can be our blindness?

 

In life, the ability to predict outcomes can protect us from many things.  It has in fact probably kept us alive until this point.

But reducing our lives of faith to natural, human outcomes completely eliminates God from the mix.  Assessing the situation using the facts and circumstances we can see, leaves out the possibility of what GOD may do

THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO THINGS THAN WE CAN SEE.

 

So will we be those

Who stand in the presence of the living God

Closed, and certain, and offended?

 

Or will we be like the Lebanese woman and Syrian man,

Seeking

Open

Watching

Waiting

Hoping for God.

 

Can we be a people, ever mindful that there is more to this life than we can see

Ever mindful that there is more to God than we can know

Ever mindful that there is more going on that we can perceive…

 

And will we be a people hoping and expecting, watching and waiting for God to show up?

And shake things up

And leave us amazed?

…In our lives

And in this place?

 

When the voice of God calls to us,

As it did through Elijah to that Lebanese widow gathering sticks to cook her final meal,

     Will we have ears to hear?

Will we dare to hope?

Will we take the leap of faith?

 

Who will we be? 

“Not Against Flesh and Blood”

Rev. Katherine Todd
2 Chronicles 20:12b-17                                                                                Ephesians 6:10-17

2 Chronicles 20:12b-17

For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.  Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the middle of the assembly.  He said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them; they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, before the wilderness of Jeruel.  This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

Ephesians 6:10-17

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


I find this imagery of the armor of God both empowering and unsettling.

Through-out church history, we find a stained path – of things done that we should not have done, things said that should not have been said.  There is a whole bloody past of atrocities committed in God’s name.  But all this is easy for us to say – for us who stand on the shoulders of all who have come before – for us who are the beneficiaries of those who paid for our freedoms with their sweat and blood.

In hindsight, we can see what our ancestors couldn’t – the world they were creating.  In hindsight, we can see what our ancestors couldn’t – the cumulative knowledge we have gained to this very day.

There is many a victim in our world who has been battered in the name of God.  While the crusades and inquisitions have passed, thanks be to God, harm done in God’s name has endured.  We have eviscerated people cultures in the name of Christ.  We have confused Christ with our own cultures, imposing our ways upon others in the name of God.  We have used isolated scripture passages, most often without scholarship, to condemn and to judge one another.  We have taken verses out of context and interpreted them through the lenses of our own experiences, culture, economy, and world view.  And in far too many cases, we’ve not even realized we were wearing lenses at all.

Now when I say “we,” I realize not everyone of us has done all these things recently or perhaps ever.  I say “we,” including myself in collective humanity, to acknowledge that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  I say “we” because usually we have all played a part in these social situations, to some degree or another.  I say “we” because healing begins when we stop pointing the finger and stand up and take responsibility for righting the wrongs.

We as a people have used God to promote our social world views.  We have used God to promote our agendas.  We have used God.

Wearing Christ like a gold star, we have used Christ to elevate ourselves.  We have reasoned backwards that if God has chosen us, we must be good and others must be bad.  We have sought to sort and label one another – between those who we believe are condemned and those we believe are saved, those who are in and those who are out.

The problem in all these things is that we have taken the place of God.  We have judged, AS IF we are in a position to condemn and to judge.  We have sorted, AS IF we can see and understand rightly.  …all this despite Christ’s warnings: “judge not, that you may not be judged…”  All this despite God’s word that declares “God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts than our thoughts.”

Clearly WE do not have what it take to see and determine rightly.  And yet we try and try again.

Now, does the fact that we can never fully see and understand God in this lifetime mean we shouldn’t try.  Absolutely not!  We are called to seek God’s face.  We are called to spend time in the Word of God, learning through prayer and study.

But in all things, we must remember that God is God, and we are not.

Can we speak definitively for God?  Probably not.

But we can speak to our experiences of God.  We can comfort how we have been comforted.  We can love as we have been loved.

And so, in returning to the scripture verses at hand – these verse about battling and armor – we recognize the thorny weight of history around these images of battle.

But let’s take a deeper look.

This scripture verse talks about battling the spiritual forces of evil and distinctly says that our battles are not against flesh and blood.  Our fight is truly not with one another.

Let me say that again:  our battle is not with one another.

So for all the fighting we are doing amongst ourselves, this verse does NOT support that.  The battle is NOT against one another but with the spiritual forces of evil.

So if we are using the Word of God to batter and tear at one another, we are misusing the Word of God.

If we are using Scripture to condemn one another, we are misusing the word of God.

If we are using Scripture to sort and judge one another, we are misusing the word of God.

Secondly, you’ll notice that the battle is not ours, but Gods.  This is a great relief.  We are not the beginning or the end of this story.  We are not the first to battle temptation and sin and evil.  We will not be the last, but the battle belongs to God.

This is a great comfort to me when I am tempted to believe that the weight of it all is hanging on my shoulders alone.  We are not alone, but we are following God’s lead, in God’s strength, in God’s way.

And God equips us.  We don’t wield the battle tools of this world.

Our belt is truth.

Our breastplate is righteousness, the righteousness that comes from Christ alone.

Our shoes are whatever help us proclaim the Gospel of peace.

Our shield and defense is faith.  Trusting and believing in God, we ward off the attacks of the enemy.

Our helmet is salvation – that free gift of God, on which our whole life rests, and in which we are able to stand with confidence and hope.

Our sword is of the Spirit, and is the Word of God.  God’s Word is power.  God’s Word stopped a storm.  God’s Word brought the dead to life.  God’s Word is life and power.  God’s Word is how we take on the evils of this world.

So as we face the disappointments, the challenges, the frustrations, and the evils of this world, let us not forget that the battle is the Lords, and that the battle is not against other people but against the spiritual forces of evil.  As God is for us, so we are for one another!

Star Wars is an epic series about the forces of good and evil.  In it we see unlikely heroes taking on those under the power of the dark side.  But what this series does well is in reminding us that even those most hardened by sin and evil, are still being called to light and love and life.  Even those who have done the most harm are not beyond redemption.  Vador is not too far gone to love and save the life of his son.

And that is exactly what Christ has shown us.  God is calling each one.  God looked out at all God had made and called it “good.”  Who are we to call bad what God has called good?  Who are we to condemn who God is calling?

When we find ourselves temped and tried and tested…  When we find ourselves pressed on every side…  When we find ourselves focusing on the people who have done us wrong, let us remember that God loves that one.  Let us remember that the battle is not with them but with things much bigger than all of this we can see.

And so we do not fight against one another.  We fight FOR one another and against the spiritual powers of evil.

We do not fight as this world fights.  We fight in God’s way and with God’s gifts.

We do not fight in our own strength.  But we fight in the power of God’s strength.

 

Let us not be dismayed.

Though evil is all around us.  We are not alone.  The battle is God’s.  And our God has equipped us.  So let us actively use all these good gifts of God and BE ABOUT the good fight, trusting that goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, lightness is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.

“Faith, the Usurper of Fear”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-24, 32-49
Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-24, 32-49

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid.

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It occurs to me that so many of our Biblical stories are these stark juxtapositions.  The more dire the situation, the more dramatically God shows up.

In the first reading, it was evening, and Jesus and his followers were crossing the sea by boat with a great windstorm arise.  The wind and waves pummeled the boat, so much so that the boat was being swamped.  In other words, the boat was filling with water.

Meanwhile Jesus has managed to sleep through this whole affair – all the wind, all the waves, all the fear, the exhaustion, the utter desperation… and he only awakes when woken by his disciples who have seriously begun to wonder whether or not Jesus even cares at all.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

By all appearances at that moment, Jesus would seem not to care.  He is ASLEEP.  One could imagine that the only way he could be asleep would be by ignoring the realities at play.  How could ANYONE possibly sleep through this storm-to-end-all-days?

But upon being called, Jesus wakes and immediately says to the wind and to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”

The roaring ceased. And it says there was a dead calm.

And Jesus then speaks to his disciples saying, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

As someone who needs time to process an event, I would at this moment, have been in shock.  Of course now, it is clear that all is well, they are safe, there is no need for fear.  But seconds before, they felt with all their being that the end was nigh! All their experience of the world had shown them that THIS was exactly how boats went under and lives were lost. All their experience of the world had shown them that unless they could bail water faster than it was being blown and splashed into the hull, that they would surely sink.

Who could have anticipated what happened next?!

I have always heard this statement by Jesus as a rebuke.  It has sounded like he is still a bit disappointed in his followers for not getting it yet.  And yet in this reading, a different aspect of the story jumped out:

JESUS WAS SLEEPING

Jesus clearly had faith. Jesus clearly knew what the disciples did not.  And all this understanding produced sleep sleep amidst chaos.

Not a light or fitful sleep. But a deep sleep, that all the wind and waves and hot impassioned fear could not rouse!

That is some kind of sleep!!

It has been observed from car accidents, that babies can fair better than adults.  Not seizing up with fear or anticipating of a crisis, babies remain more supple, they go with the motion of the vehicle, sometimes even sleeping through an incident.  They can end up miraculously unscathed in situations with far scarier odds.

And that reminds me of Jesus’ own words about children – calling all his disciples to “faith like a child.”  Jesus lifted up those in society who had no rights, those who were considered property, those considered among the least upon the social ladder and LIFTED THEM UP as being the models for us all.

FAITH.

In the disciples’ struggle to believe, in their struggle to trust, in their struggle to have faith, Jesus lifts up children as an object lesson to the adults.  They have faith.  We need faith like them.

Corrie Ten Boom remembered vividly an experience from her youth.  A family friend had died, and she and her father made the train ride over to visit with the family.  When they arrived, they found the dead body of their family friend present in the room, and Corrie, still a young girl, had never seen a dead body before.

The experience shook her, and she had many questions for her father about death.  She worried it would be painful and she wouldn’t have what she needed when the time came.

And so he asked her, “Corrie, when we rode the train over here today, did you worry about your ticket for the train?”  “No,” she replied, “I knew you would get it for me.”  “But you didn’t seethe ticket?  How did you know that you’d have one, and that you wouldn’t be stuck, left behind?” “I knew because you love me, and you always present the ticket just before we board.”

“Death is like that,” he explained. “Our heavenly Father loves us and knows what we need.  When the time comes, God will give us all that we need.”

Indeed Corrie trusted her father with the faith of a child.  She didn’t worry about money for the ticket.  She didn’t worry that she’d be left behind.  She didn’t worry about her father’s love for her.  No she trusted him implicitly, and he was inviting her to trust God with that same implicit trust, for all the scary unknowns she would face in her life.

So what would it have looked like if the disciples had had faith?

Faith like a child

Could they too have slept through the raging storm?

In our other reading for today of David and Goliath, we see a boy, whodidhave a measure of faith.  He kept speaking his trust that the Living God would deliver them from this assailant.

This trust may have been bolstered by his young age and limited experiences.  It may have been

The result of his not having seen how dire things could get in battle.

This trust may have been sown by his experiences fighting bears and lions who had come for the sheep in his care.

We do not know what mix of faith and doubt he had.
We do not know what faith was born of naiveté or youth.
But where all around him there is fear – a whole army full of fear – he alone has faith.
And he alone gets the victory over this foe.

What would it look like if we have faith?

Each of us has faced and will face many storms in this life.
Some of them will feel like the end is near.
In some of them we too cry out with all our hearts, “Why, Lord?!  Do you not care?”

But may we hear Jesus’ words to the disciples, lessas chastisement or disappointment, and more as invitation.

Could it be
that Jesus is inviting his followers into a different way of BEING
in the midst of the storms and raging fears?

Is it possible,
that Jesus is inviting us into a way of peace that passes all understanding
– that defies logic!?

If we take a moment
to learn from the children in our lives,
how can WE have faith,
like them?

So that whatever may come,
we know
we are loved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth,
and we know
and can rest in the knowledge
that we are held in the strong and tender arms of our God.

It may be
that rather than exhausting ourselves
in endless worry and crippling fear,
we may instead rest and be renewed
that we may then wake
to speak
and act
and follow after our Lord
in such a time as this.