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“Into the Potter’s Hands”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

 

Acts 19:1-710

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them.

 

Mark 1:4-11

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

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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

 

John the Baptist,

He preached repentance for sins and alerted the people to watch for the one more powerful to come – who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

Well, that’s what we’re told, and yet here in Ephesus, Apollo finds some believers who did not hear or understand that part of the message – the part about the One to Come and Baptism by the Holy Spirit.

– Doesn’t this sound familiar:  part of the message getting lost in translation? –

 

This is often what we experience in our relationships with one another.  We hear some but not all.  We remember this, but not that.

And in John’s day, folks weren’t recording his speech by phone or taking notes on their pocket-notebooks or planners.  They weren’t documenting events by email or even tablets.  His words were to be experienced.  The whole experience was one – not to be preserved but to be lived.

And yet, these believers are still doing the hard work.  They are doing that work of repentance.  And that means they are actively and intentionally making room for Christ in their lives – whether or not they know or foresee Christ’s coming.

 

Despite missing a significant part of John’s message, they have done what most find hardest:  repentance.  And for Apollo to be finding them, we know Christ has already been crucified.   Time has passed between their hearing John’s message and their hearing Apollo’s:  years, most likely.  So they have been LIVING John’s teachings…all this time.

Therefore they are in a position of readiness.  And when they finally DO hear the good news, when they finally DO learn about Christ and the Holy Spirit, they receive the Spirit fully – receiving the Spirit’s gifts! 

 

This story reminds me that it isn’t about getting everything just right or remembering everything just perfectly.  They were seeking God.  And God was seeking them!
GOD was seeking them.
And Christ himself taught us, “Seek and you shall find.”
Indeed they find what they are looking for!
What mercy!
What love.

The part of the message they had remembered and been practicing was repentance, and repentance is that returning to God.
It is that taking responsibility for our flaws and failures.
And it returns us to the only true and honest relationship we can have with God and one another – a relationship based on humility.
Humility.

Humility is a seeing ourselves AS WE TRULY ARE.
For if we are not humble, the truth is not in us.
If we think we are without sin, the truth is not in us.
If we think we SEE, then we do not see.
If we think we know, then knowledge is not in us.
And GOD is the TRUTH.

We see, only in part.
We know, only in part.
We do good, only in part.

To have any kind of right relationship with God, AT ALL,
The starting place is to humble ourselves.
And repentance is the beginning of humility…of TRUTH.

We cannot be a cup, open to the rain of heaven, unless we are empty. 
We cannot be taught, shaped by truth, unless we are open. 

 

I share with you this poem by Christine Lore Weber:  Mother Wisdom Speaks.

Listen for God’s words to you:

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl.
People will eat from you.
And their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry.
Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you brilliant one.
I will call you daughter who is wide.
I will call you transformed.

 

We do not live for ourselves alone.
We are not saved for ourselves alone.
We are not chosen for privilege but for purpose.
Purpose. 

When we return to God in repentance,
humbling ourselves before God,
God does this most holy work in us:
growing our hearts,
t
eaching our minds,
e
xpanding our capacity,

SO THAT our own mortal being might be shaped, more and more, into God’s divine proportions.
WE will never reflect God wholly in this world.
We will never perceive God wholly in this world.
But when we position ourselves, at the feet of God, in humility
w
e offer ourselves to be shaped as clay in God, the Potter’s hands.
And Christ shapes us to be vessels of God’s nourishment,
p
athways to God’s unending grace, expanses for God’s light. 

 

The more and more we humble ourselves in God’s presence,
the more and more God shapes us to be bright lights in the Kingdom of God.

 

So fear not, missing a part of the message.
God is not like that.
God is not arbitrary.
God does not expect us to be perfect, to be God.
That isn’t what any of this is about at all.

Fear only
passing up the chance
to be surrendered truly
and wholly
into the loving and most skillful
Hands of God.

 

And so may we, like these Ephesians,
Follow the truth we have received,
Trusting God to reveal more and more truth as we are ready,
Trusting Christ’s words that
when we seek God, we shall find God,
when we seek with all our hearts. 

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

“In A Flash”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25:1-13

 

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

 

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour

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God’s justice comes in a flash.

Christ returns in a flash.

The presence of God sweeps o’r the plains and rustles the trees – most suddenly, without warning, a wind gust, unparalleled.

There is no weather forecaster, no siren, no text or facebook message

when God’s Kingdom comes.

No.

 

It comes in a rush,

and when it does,

who will we be?

Where will we be?

What will have our attention?

 

 

Along with many the Psalmist, I too cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

I wonder why God’s justice has not yet rushed down, like the mighty waters.

I wonder when a change will come.

I yearn and wait and weep and pray that God’s will may be done

on earth,

as it is in heaven.

 

But then what? 

Do I wait expectantly?

Do I watch?

Do I ready myself,

my life,

my time,

my availability,

my heart,

…my devotion?

 

Do I ready myself? 

Do I work for God’s Kingdom?

Do I speak the truths of God’s Kingdom?

Do I love as one of God’s own family?

Do I forgive readily and seventy-times seven, as Christ has forgiven me?

 

Do I ready myself?

…working through the suitcases of my baggage?

…delving into the shadow-places of my soul?

…voicing the questions and doubts in my heart?

…taking step after step of faith

growing in capacity and trust, endurance and faith,

day by day??

 

Do I ready myself?

Do I wake and ask God –

“What is your will for me today?”

“What will you have me do today?”

“Call me into your presence, and let me follow.”

“Speak to me.  Teach me, as one being taught.”

 

Do I ready myself? 

Do I learn the Word of God?

Do I meditate on scripture – sitting with it, reflecting on it, bathing in the light of God’s truth?

Do I ask God’s wisdom…to discern right from wrong, goodness from evil, truth from falsehood?

Do I ask and listen for God to direct my every step

…even as my heart plans the way?

 

Do I ready myself?

Am I swift to turn from evil,

swift to apologize,

swift to make right?

 

Each of these are among our muscles of faith.

These are the little things that make up our whole lives as disciples.

And what we do now,

either prepares us for God’s coming,

for the Kingdom of God,

for the Kindom of God,

or it doesn’t. 

 

 

And when God speaks, life emerges.

When God rebukes the wind, it ceases.

When God makes right – who can stand in the way? 

 

So,

Where will we be?

Where will I be?

Where will you be …

 …when God’s Kindom comes and God’s will is done,

on earth,

as it is in heaven? 

 

 

“Vision Unimpaired”

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

 

Isaiah 40:27-31

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

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

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

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

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

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Can you imagine a life like Moses’?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is where GOD speaks to him.

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

 

And so this man…

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

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

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

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

 

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

is CALLED by God. 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Ughhhhhh.

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

How about you?

 

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

 

Wow

 

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

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

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

I’m guessing Moses was a passionate man.

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

 

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

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

It is amazing.  Crazy amazing.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

They shall walk and not faint. 

 

May WE be so bold,

So attentive,

So obedient,

So faithful,

So returning to God,

So taking refuge in God,

That WE TOO GLOW.

 

May WE TOO know

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

 

Here I am, Lord. 

Is it I, Lord? 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER                                                                       (Ted Loder)

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

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

that is you.

                                                                                    (Tomas H. Tellez, Nicaragua)

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

                                                                                    (Frederick Buechner, adapted)

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

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

(Psalm 19, 13-17)

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

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

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

 

 

Sending                                   (Numbers 6:22-26)

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

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

 

“Sure As the Morning Sun”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:13-24
Jeremiah 33:14-26

 

Romans 11:13-24

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Jeremiah 33:14-26

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.

 


 

In this scripture from Jeremiah, we hear God’s promises to the people, and I am impressed by God’s reassurances.  God makes this round-about point – just to show Jeremiah how faithful and trustworthy God is to the people and to fulfill these promises.  God says that if any of them can cause God’s covenant with day and night to be broken, that only then would God’s covenant with David be broken.

And since human beings cannot cause the cessation of day and night, even more-so can human beings not cause God to break faith and promises with David.

These promises are sure.

They are steadfast.

They are as steady as the day.

They are as reliable as the night.

 

 

This reassurance of God’s faithfulness is needed.   It is needed because time and again, human beings do horrific things.  And down deep we fear God may turn God’s back on us.

And these fears are not unfounded.  Indeed our behaviors can affect whether or not God will respond to us or answer our prayers.  Our behaviors do have consequences.  We indeed reap what we sow.

Just before this in Jeremiah’s book, we read that the Chaldeans will come & fight and fill the broken-down houses with dead bodies that God will strike down, precisely because of the people’s wickedness.  God will hide God’s face from the city.

 

Indeed our actions do have consequences.  We can close ourselves off to God’s presence and God’s grace.  We can harden our hearts.  We can become intrenched in sin, deaf and dumb to God’s Spirit.  And we can set ourselves -in opposition to God- and all that is holy.

And knowing we will always revisit this question, God gives us this very visual demonstration of faithfulness.  So that with each morning and each evening, we might remember that God’s faithfulness is as steadfast as the morning sun, as reliable as the evening shade.

 

We do not alter God’s faithfulness.

We can only alter our participation in God’s work.

By our actions we may opt in and opt out.

But our actions do not lesson God’s faithfulness. 

 

And so knowing that we can indeed turn our backs and hide our faces from God, it is imperative that we humbly return to God, day after day.  God’s faithfulness does not wain, but we can close ourselves off to God and all that is good and true.

 

The sun is again a good visual aid for this concept.

I remember when I first rode in a plane.  I wasn’t young, and yet I was surprised when we passed through the cloud-cover of a gray and drippy day only to find the sun shining strong on the other side.

Now had you asked me, I could have worked out that this would be the case – of course the sun is still shining even when I cannot see it – but it was a profound perspective shift.  This fact that the sun is still shining, even when we cannot see it, remains with me today.

 

And God’s faithfulness is like the sun.  It is a faithful as the morning and the evening.  It shines, even when we cannot feel it or see it.

We can box the sun out.  We can keep the shades drawn and stay in the basement, but God’s radiance, God’s faithfulness shines on.

 

Now God’s faithfulness doesn’t always take the forms and timing and paths we expect.

In this scripture passage we read about how God will keep a son on David’s throne and a priest to offer sacrifices for all time.  And I expect many have and many still do expect that God was speaking about the human nation of Israel.  Many still read these passages and think they are all very specific to the Jewish nation and their continued existence and prowess.  But I do not think in that way.  The book of Hebrews makes clear that Christ has become our high priest – for all time.  Christ is the sacrifice.  Christ himself became our way to God, our mediator, our cleansing blood.  And Christ is a descendant of David who reigns in power to this day.

In Christ, this promise is fulfilled!

And in this same passage, God says God will increase the offspring of David and the Levites who minister to God.  And in Christ, this too has been fulfilled – for all time – for from every nation God has risen up offspring of Israel.  God has grafted all those who believe into the family tree of God.

In Christ, God has forever set a descendant of David on the throne, God has forever set before us a high priest, and God has risen-up offspring to Israel by grafting in believers from many nations and times.

 

God has done something no human mind could have imagined.

We were thinking small.

God was thinking big.

We were thinking local.

God was thinking global.

 

And so as we leave this place of worship today, I invite you remember, with each sunrise and sunset, just how steadfast is God’s faithfulness and love. 

God’s promises are sure.

Nothing we do or don’t do can break them.

 

And so the question is:

Will we take part?

Will we experience the radiant love of the Lord?

Will we experience the never-giving up love of God?

Will we receive the sunlight on our skin and in our hair?

We will continue in the kindness of God?

 

God’s faithfulness is unending.  God’s love is steadfast and true.  God’s promises are sure.

Now our job is to stand in the light of God’s radiance,

Day after day,

And wait

And listen

And receive

And follow.

 

And may we experience and take part in

God’s abiding, steadfast, and

unbreakable love and faithfulness,

in this world

and in our lives.

“What Love is This?!”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 23
Ruth 1:1-18

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Ruth 1:1-18

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.  The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

 


 

This story of Ruth and Naomi compels us.

What possesses someone to cleave to another like that?

 

It is a mystery.

Did Ruth not have a better option?  Was her family of origin a place she never wished to return?  What were Ruth’s ties with her home country like – that she would give it all up to stay with Naomi and move to away from the only place she’d ever known?

Or did Ruth love her hometown and family of origin but love Ruth more?  Was her commitment to her husband so deep that not even death would end her commitment to his mother?  Did she pity her mother-in-law for having lost so much and feel an obligation to care for her?  Was her connection with her mother-in-law so extraordinary, that leaving her felt like more than she could bear?

 

We do not know.

For some undisclosed reason, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi.

And this seems clearly NOT in the best interest of Ruth.

She had a much better chance starting over in her hometown.  She could re-marry.  She was young enough.  She could start again.

But following after her mother-in-law, who could no longer marry and had absolutely no way of caring for herself (as a woman in those days), was most certainly the bigger risk.  As women, their entire livelihoods were reliant on their having men to provide for them.   And all the men were gone.  The ties that bound them were gone.

 

But Ruth commits herself to Naomi – that not even death should part them.

 

This is extraordinary.

And it probably saved Naomi’s life, as two were much more likely to survive than one, alone.

And so we have Ruth and Naomi traveling back to Israel, to Naomi’s nation-of-origin, in the hopes that they would somehow find a way to survive, as word had reached them that God has spared the people of Israel, giving them food.

This commitment by Ruth to Naomi is so extraordinary that couples getting married will often pull from this text – in hopes that their own love and commitment might be half as strong that that shown by Ruth to Naomi.

 

What is it about this text that draws us in?

I think it’s this utter commitment.  I think it’s the depth of love shown in this most tangible way – of not leaving, even when it surely means suffering and risk and a difficult journey.  This cleaving to another person with devotion is so utterly gorgeous.  It draws us in.

 

Mercifully, Hebrew culture had a system for caring for the people.  Since in that day men were alone allowed to own property and conduct business, so all women needed the care of a man in order to survive.  Sometimes the man was a husband, sometimes a son, sometimes a father.

This system was so developed that they even had a system for making sure each man’s name and legacy was carried on.  If a woman lost her husband and had no children, the next of kin had an obligation to marry that woman so that she could conceive and bear a child to carry on the family name.  This was a family obligation.  And the character and integrity of one’s nearest of kin could be measured in their willingness at such times to step in and provide for the bereaved woman in this way.

But in this instance, Naomi was advanced in age, and it seems her time of bearing children was over.  She fell through the cracks.  There would be no more children to care for her, even if her next of kin were to step in.  She had lost the two she bore, and she could bear no more.  The two young wives had no brother in law to step in redeem them, as it was called in that day.  In fact, since Naomi and her husband had traveled to Moab and were foreigners in that land, they had no next of kin there at all.  So these two women had absolutely nothing.

This was about survival.

 

And in this place of nothingness.  In this place of emptiness.

They are reliant on God.  They are reliant on the mercy of strangers along a risky journey.

And in this place of emptiness, they cleave to one another.  They rely on each other.

 

When Naomi has no societal power left and no inroads to survival, Ruth will not leave her side.  She works tirelessly for herself and her mother-in-law that they might have food.  And to Naomi who feels as if her life is over and she has nothing, Ruth is living proof that God loves her and will not leave her.

Naomi shelters Ruth by bringing her back into the land and culture of Naomi’s roots.  There, there is food; God has been merciful to the people.  There, they have land owned by her former husband.  There they have kin, if one will step up and care for Ruth in this way.  And so Naomi guides her daughter in law – instructing her in this foreign land and culture – that Ruth may find her way and start anew, with fresh hope.

 

I will probably never tire of hearing this story.

We all need people in our lives like Ruth…

The kind of people who stay – long after their obligations have ended,

The kind of people who love – even when there’s little in it for them,

The kind of people who are committed to us – in thick and in thin, in plenty and in want.

 

We all come to places in our lives when we feel utterly stripped of all power and security.  We face journeys that feel so endless and barren.  We find ourselves with more loss than gain.

And in these times, we need people like Ruth.

 

I don’t know why some of us enjoy friendship and love like this only for a short season.  I don’t know why some of us search all our lives and never find such companionship.  I don’t know why others of us are so blessed to have several folks in our lives who would love us like this.

But wherever you find yourself today, I invite you to give thanks for those in your lives who have been there for you, for a lifetime or a season, or even a moment.

 

I have spoken to you before about that very low time in my life, that time pinnacled with acquiring bed bugs just before Christmas.  The bed bugs themselves can be enough to make the strongest among us feel crazy, but the real pain was in feeling so alone in my suffering.  And the bed bugs felt like icing on that cake of suffering.

The day I got the news that all fabric in my house had to be bagged and laundered and all belongings had to be pulled out 4 feet from the walls – for the bed bug treatment- I despaired, as I have no family in area.  Who could I possibly ask to come and enter into my misery – to help me through this mountain of a task?  I only had a few friends, and some of those friendships were new and untested.  So I called one such friend, and though it may be hard to tell at the outset, she is among the saints of this world – if her acts of love are the measure.  She agreed to come help, but she knew we would need more help if we were going to get everything ready in time, so she called some of her friends.

In the end, one of her friends agreed to come help.  It was a tiny miracle.  And so the three of us worked until we could work no more, and when it became clear that more would be needed come morning, the friend of my friend slept on my couch, in order to help me again in the morning.

 

What love is this?!?

What love is this – that goes the extra mile – and for someone essentially a stranger?

 

In this very low time, God showed God’s love for me through the love and selfless generosity of a stranger – to enter into my misery and walk with me until I could go on.

 

I do not know who your angels in disguise have been.  They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and backgrounds, times and places.

They have come in our times of greatest need.  And sometimes they come only for a moment.

But in these moments, God is showing the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.  In these moments, God is present and real to us in flesh and bone through people who have opened themselves to be used of God.

 

In our lives full of glorious mountain moments and valleys of despair, may we find God present with us, in the stranger, in the friend, in dear companionship, and in moments of utterly selfless beauty.

 

It is hard to love like this.

That’s why it is so rare and precious.

That’s why an entire book of Bible is one such story.

But as we open ourselves to God’s Spirit, to be used by God,

we will find ourselves party to more and more such moments,

we will find strength to love with this kind of self-less and persevering love,

and we will witness the profoundly gorgeous love of God poured out.

 

God is actively working

To comfort the afflicted

To restore the oppressed

To heal the broken and brokenhearted

To shepherd us through the valleys of the shadow of death and bring us into a broad

land of milk and honey

To make our cups overflow!

 

God is actively working.

 

May we open ourselves,

listening for God

asking God to use us

and being obedient to the Spirit

That more people may KNOW the gorgeous love of God,

      in moments, and friendships, and love, like the love Ruth showed Naomi. 

 

Lord, use us.