Posts

“Getting Real”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 22
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;[b]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life[c] from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

 

2 Corinthians 12

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.


 

In this Psalm of David, we hear David crying out from the depths of his own desperation.  He is so malnourished, he can count all his bones.  His situation is so very bad that he imagines his bones vying for his pieces of clothing – as though they foresee his end is near and want to make sure they all get a cut of his remnants.  He is so thirsty, his tongue sticks to his jaw.  He feels God has laid him out in the dust of death!  Everyone who sees him, mocks him.  They respond with religious-sounding canned answers.  They imply that his situation is the will of the Lord.  He feels encircled by the strong, who open their mouths at him, like roaring lions, and his heart melts within his chest.  There is no one to help.

 

I cannot imagine things getting so very bad as David is experiencing them, without the rescue of the Lord.  We hear in God’s word that he rescues those who love God.  We hear God saves our feet from the trap.  We hear that a thousand arrows will fall to one’s left and one’s right, but that none will touch the Lord’s beloved…  So why do we have these experiences?!?

Why does God let us get to the dust of death?  Why do we call out yet find no rest!?!!

 

Sometimes I feel like God is not keeping God’s Word to us.

(As though I’ve ever kept up my end of the bargain)

 

Sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing enough.

(As though I possess the wisdom to counsel GOD)

 

And I feel ashamed of these feelings.  I try to hide these feelings.  I do not give them voice…

And yet they rise up within me!

 

Why are the innocent suffering?!?

Why are children dying!?!

Why are our relationships so broken!?!

Why are entire lives wasted?!?

 

Why do the just suffer?

Why are the giving, exploited!?

Why are the tender-hearted abused?

Why are moments of beauty so momentary?

 

I am learning something new from David.

David was very clearly at the end of his rope.  David HAD BEEN crying out to God!…

And yet he cried out still!

Truly, he persevered in prayer, with a God, for whom he felt both love and anger, trust and bewilderment!

He KEPT CRYING OUT to God.

 

Second, David does not soften his feelings toward God.  He accuses God of forsaking him.  He complains at God for bringing him no relief, though he has cried out, day after day.  David knows God to be the one who does not forsake his children, the faithful one who hears, the one who cares…and yet none of this feels true in his life at the moment and he brings this up with God.  David confronts God.

How many of us do this?  Do we feel too ashamed to be that real with God?  Do we know the “right” things to say and feel…so much so that we do not even know the REAL things we are feeling or needing to say?  Do we trust God to still love us even if we let it all hang out?  Do we trust that nothing, indeed nothing, can separate us from the love of God?

 

A third thing I am observing is how David fluctuates between doubt and faith.

In one moment, he is complaining at God for forsaking him, for giving him no rest and in the next, he is remembering God’s faithfulness to his ancestors, God’s mighty acts and deliverance.

In one moment, he is complaining at how he is mocked and scorned by all who see him.  He quotes their prescriptions of spiritual wisdom – they who talk but do not help – and in the next, he remembers how faithful God has been to him, since his birth.

In one moment, he describes, in great detail, just how very bad things are and how alone he is.  In the next, he begins again to cry out yet again for God to save him.

We see a man wrestling with what it means that God is faithful and that he himself is suffering, that God provides and yet he himself is lacking, that God hears and yet he himself feels forsaken!

And I relate.

 

And then, when we see just how truly low David is, we hear this turn in his Psalm,

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

In the middle of this Psalm, there is a turn, God delivers, God provides, and David is filled with praise saying “the Lord has done it!”

 

And in all this, David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

This David

Who trusted and feared,

Gave thanks and complained,

Remembered God’s faithfulness and questioned God’s faithfulness…

This David

 

Perhaps there is hope for us.

 

I want to share with you a story by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.  A physician and a woman living with a chronic illness herself, Rachael is a counselor to both physicians and patients.  In this story, she shares the crisis one young man brought to her (p 39).

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 39

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 40 41

 

We can expend all our energy trying to be what we think God wants us to be,

Trying to feel what we think God wants us to feel,

Trying to act how we think God wants us to act.

But this is not what we see in this honest, raw, passionate Psalm of David.  And God does not abandon him in this, rejecting him for his anger and doubt, despising him for his weakness, …but rather God delivers him!

 

Perhaps, WE are enough.  Perhaps our anger, our questions, our faith, our hope, our disappointment, our feelings of betrayal, our feelings of abandonment, our swells of overwhelming joy and rejoicing….

Perhaps

We

Are enough.

 

Perhaps we can stop striving

To be

To say

To act…

And just be,

resting in God’s unending love for us,

And knowing that WE are enough,

because GOD is enough.

 

Amen.

“Trust and Enjoy”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22
Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”…

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths

 

 

This is perhaps the hardest, and the easiest, teaching of God to follow and carry out.  God is telling us to simply acknowledge God, in all our ways, and to trust.  That’s our job.  All the other stuff, all the hard stuff, is GOD’s job.  What God asks of us is really not that hard.  Children do this, in their own way, everyday!  God is not asking us to do what we cannot do.  God is asking us only to do what we can do…acknowledge God and trust.

So, why is this SO HARD!?!

 

I think it goes back to that garden and the fruit tree…and the serpent’s luring words:  “God knows when you eat this your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, able to tell good and evil.”

Just like Adam and Eve long ago, we too want to be like God!

We too want to be God!!

We want to play God with our own lives – to control it, to control others, to predict the future, to determine good and evil, to order our days, to get what we want, to shape our lives as we think best!

We don’t want to have a God, we want to be God!

And this is the root of our sin.

 

 

Abraham’s story is a curious story.  Many of us have heard it as children, and it may feel warm and familiar, but have we really sat with it, as adults?

Abraham’s Daddy sets out for the land of Canaan, but when he gets to Haran, he settles there.  No explanation is given.  We don’t know why he was aiming for Canaan in the first place or why he ends up settling in Haran, but this is how it goes.

Now, Abraham’s name back then was Abram, and the next we hear is that God speaks to Abram telling him to take his family & go to the land God will show him.  God tells Abram that he’ll make of him a great nation, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God doesn’t say where.

God just says go.

God is asking Abram to trust his spiritual ears – that Abram can and is indeed hearing God speak to him – and to trust the character of God, that if God says it will be good for him, then indeed it will be good for him.

…And the very next thing we read is, “So Abram went, as the Lord told him.”

It is a miraculous affair really.

 

How many people have you met, in your lifetime, who have simply gone somewhere –without anything lined up on the other end – simply because God told them to go and told them it would be good?

 

Have you done this in your life?

Abraham trusted God.

 

Now, here, we already see the rubber hit the road:

It is easy to say we trust God, but how can we see that trust in our actions?

Where is that trust reflected in our daily living?

Do our lives tell a story of anxiety and worry for the future?

Are our actions driven by fear?

Do we feel trapped in situations?

Do we complain about our lives but talk ourselves out of every idea for change?

 

I imagine most of us aren’t so different from Abraham.  God has planted dreams and visions in our hearts.  God has placed desires.

…Now, you may have to really dig deep to remember,…but do you remember being so on-fire about an idea? …so stirred up for a cause? …so passionate about something??

Do you remember being filled with a vision for your future?

Have you heard God say that your life meant something?

…that it matters?

…that it’s important?

 

God operates this way.  Remember Joseph?  God gave Joseph a dream – in which all the stars bowed down to him.

But do you remember?  When Joseph told his brothers the dream, they were plain pissed off!  They had a very “uppity” brother, it seemed to them!  They would put him in his place…the bottom of a hole, …and then a slave to the highest bidder!

 

And so we are afraid – “what will others think!  I must have a big head!  Who am I to ever do anything important?!”

How many times have we cowered in shame and self-deprecation… rather than believe the call of God on our lives?

 

But…

say we believe it.

Say in the core of who we are, we believe what God has said to us…

Then what? 

Do we tuck it away in a safe place where no one can discover it?..hurt it…ridicule it???

Do we then safely wait and secretly hope the dream will somehow fall into our laps?

 

Do we follow and do what the Lord has planted and placed in our hearts to do?

Or do we let it fade and die into numb forgetfulness?…hidden, safe, dead.

 

Let’s say, we not only believe what God’s said to us, but we follow

Then what happens?

Everyone, and our mother, may think we gone off the deep end.  Noah’s neighbors likely had the Department of Social Services on the line, ready to intervene.  Abram’s family was likely grumbling and complaining, worried about where they’d find water, or grass for the animals, or safety in foreign lands.  Had Abram shared God’s promises to him with others, I imagine it would have made for much late-night banter, …especially in light of his childlessness and what-not… “A Father of many nations!?  And at the age of 99!”  How do you think Joseph’s master or later his prison-mates would have responded if he shared his dream with them?  Perhaps they’d have thought him arrogant, or audacious, or crazy, or naïve.

We don’t respond well to folks who “hear God talk to them.”

We’re comfortable enough believing that people heard God’s voice in the stories of the Bible, but if anyone we know hears God’s voice, we pick it apart…

“Was that reeaaally God’s voice?”

“What if you were just hearing what you wanted to hear?”

“Perhaps you’re deceiving yourself.”

 

Just believing God’s word to us is daunting.  Now following it – hanging our very lives on it – in public…now that’s a very different thing.  That takes a whole new level of courage, resolve, and trust.  …simply because of the opposition we will face,… often from our loved ones…and sometimes also from ourselves:

“Was that really God’s voice?”

“Did I imagine that?”

“What if I’m wrong?”

 

Now as Abram is on the road, following God’s call, we begin to see Abram wrestling with the details of what God’s promise means and what it looks like to follow and to get there.

Abram has it in his head that his wife is so beautiful that folks will kill him, in order to take her.

We don’t know how true this may be…but we do read that at least 2 different kings think she’s so beautiful, they take her into their homes to make her their wives.  This all plays out because Abram makes Sarai swear to say she’s his sister – hoping that those who might otherwise covet his wife and kill him to get her, will rather consider him an ally in getting her hand for marriage.  It’s not a brilliant plan; I don’t think Abram really wants to share his wife with these others, but frankly, he’s scared to death.  He’s terrified that if they don’t lie about her being his wife, folks will kill him to get her!

…and he may be right.

So they lie.

 

Was this what God wanted?  Was this necessary?

God had promised Abram that he would make of him a great nation.  Clearly a dead Abram couldn’t make a great nation.  One could then reason that Abram didn’t need to lie – that he could be honest and God would protect him.

…But one could also reason, that it was by Abram’s lying that God protected him….

We just don’t know!

 

And in our lives,…we just don’t know.

 

I’ve had a far easier time in my life, trust God – that He is good and loves me.  What I find far harder to trust is myself!

I may make a mistake, as I try to follow God!

What if I lie, like Abram did, when God wanted me to tell the truth?

What if I sleep with my servant, in order to have the child God has promised me – when God wanted me to have that child with my wife?

 

Part of trusting God, involves trusting that God is big enough for all our mistakes.

 

Notice the scripture:

            Trust in the Lord, with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge God,

And God will direct your paths.

 

It doesn’t say, “In all your ways, get it right, and God will direct your paths.”

It says, “In all your ways, acknowledge God, and God will direct your paths.”

 

God wants us to trust

with childlike faith

and to not hang our hat, at the end of the day, on what we can see and predict and understand.

 

God wants us to follow

hand in hand

and trust God to handle everything that comes our way,

including US! – our mistakes, our misunderstandings, our everything.

 

Abraham did not always “get it right.”  For a man of great faith, he also was rational and strategic.  He knew how to stay alive as a foreigner in a foreign land, with a beautiful, coveted wife.  He knew how to negotiate with kings and win the favor of strangers.  Abraham reasoned that his aging, childless wife, might not be the one through whom God planned to make a great nation…..perhaps his slave would do – she could bear him a son!

Abraham didn’t know when to do what, but when God spoke, he believed God, and followed.

He had a heart that trust in the Lord.

 

And that is all God asks.

 

Our God is a God who wants to bless us!  Our God wants us to enjoy our days and our lot!

And God knows that we cannot enjoy when we are fearful,

or worried,

or doubting.

God knows that we cannot enjoy life, when we are reaching outside of ourselves and our abilities, trying to play God with our own lives and the lives of others.

God knows that our blessing and joy will only be complete when we

Acknowledge that God is God and we are not,

And trust God to do what only God can.

 

 

God is God, and we are not.

What God asks is that we trust, like a child

Leaning on God, like a child

Acknowledging God, in everything we do…

 

And God will be faithful to make our paths straight, to lead us into the promised land, to fulfill the word God has spoken over us in God’s own time, to realize the vision God has planted in our hearts.

 

God is God, and we are not.

 

We are God’s children! 

May we put our hand in God’s

and in-JoY this beauuutiful ride,

the life Christ has given us!

“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?