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“The One God of All”

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

 

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

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

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

 

Genesis 21:8-21

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

But I am also encouraged by this story.

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

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

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

They survive.

And they prosper. 

 

This is the character of the God we serve.

Imperfect servants of God, Abraham and Sarah,

They are still used by God.

God remembers that they are made of dust.

 

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

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

even into the lonely and vulnerable wilderness.

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

GOD is God to all.

 

We are alike,
beloved by the Most High God.

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

                                                (Psalm 72, excerpts)

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

(Iona Abby Worship Book)

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

Amen.

“Make Space for the Unexpected”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Matthew 28:1-10

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


 

Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.

Now they foresaw his death.  In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus:  “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.”  The tension is rising.  The conflict is mounting.  Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it.  But Jesus returned.

Jesus returned. 

And he would not be safe.  Not at all.

 

But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.

Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.

And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear.  They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed.  Will they be next?

And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward.  They hunker down and button the hatchets.  They tighten their inner circle.  They spend their days in a dark room.  They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there.  They start to worry about their next meal.  The fishing begins again…

 

Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?

 

And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.

How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??

No one.

Now the Israelites were a nation occupied.  They had been colonized by Rome.  They paid the emperor taxes.  They had known victory and defeat, power and exile.  But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change.  They ever faced threats of annihilation.  They built and others tore down.  Nothing seemed sure.  And the people were antsy.  Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won.  Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship.  And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus).  Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.

It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation.  And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy.  They yearned for liberation and power.

But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit?  At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed? 

Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?

To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:

“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”

What this describes is hope.

And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?

 

Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?

Will this pass?

 

We are grasping for hope.

 

Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?

And what is the world becoming?

So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
riding bicycles,
taking long walks,
slowing down,
sitting on porches,
making music,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.

We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse.  We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences.  We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.

But

Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?

 

We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…

Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…

 

It is easy to see our fears.  We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain.  It is easy to worry.  There are way too many things out of our control right now.  It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.

 

The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.

The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.

 

But JESUS returns. 

Jesus comes back.

 

When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death! 

 

Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time.  I do not know your particular worries.  I do not know how the waters rage around you.

But I do feel the waters rising.  I know the gravity of fear.  I have known the sting of loss.

 

But JESUS returns.  Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair. 

 

Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.

Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?

Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?

Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.

 

A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days.  Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.

 

Without openness,
Without space,
Without humility,
Without intention,
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.

 

We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.

Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God. 

Make room for hope

“God Shows Up”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 9:1-41

 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


 

This story was won my curiosity since childhood.  This is an incredible story!

In reading the text anew, several details grab my attention.  For one thing, the main characters are already known to us.  This is the same Mary and Martha we’ve read about before, who hosted Jesus, teaching in their home.  Martha was doing all the work while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.  And when Mary protests and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus instead commends Mary’s choice and encourages Martha to do likewise.

It is a counter-cultural exchange.  Women are supposed to host and serve.  They are not to BE served.  Martha was fulfilling her social obligations and responsibilities, but Mary was coloring outside the lines, behaving more like a child than a grown woman of her culture.  Jesus’ response to Martha must have come as quite a shock.  This is very likely the reason this story got repeated over and over, making it into our scriptures.

 

These two women love Jesus.

So of course when their brother takes ill-unto-death, they reach out to Jesus, sending someone to summon him.

But when the messenger arrives, Jesus sends him away, saying the illness will not leave Lazarus dead.  Jesus stays another two days where he is, before announcing to his disciples that they will return to Judea to waken Lazarus.  And to his disciples, this makes no sense.  Why on earth would Jesus return to a land so recently hostile to him, and why would he be needed to wake someone up?  None of it made sense.  And so Jesus speaks more plainly to them, explaining that Lazarus has died, and that he must go to him.

 

While Jesus is still in-route, Martha hears that he is coming and goes out to meet him on the road.  Her first words are:  “If you had only been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”  And this is perhaps both a profession of faith and a complaint.  Martha knows that Jesus can heal anyone.  In her approach to Jesus, she likely feels a mix of love, deep sadness, and irritation.  Why didn’t Jesus return when they called for him?

But Martha does not leave it there.  She continues, “But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  In this, we sense that Martha still has hope.

 

I have no idea what outcome she was hoping for.  I doubt she would have imagined what Jesus would do next.  Would she dream Jesus would bring her brother, dead for four days, back to life?  I doubt it.  For when Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away from the cave, it is indeed Martha who protests, saying that there will be a stench since he’s already been dead four days.

It seems more likely that Martha may have been asking for God’s protection and provision for them.  After all, it seems unlikely that these two sisters had husbands.  If they’d had husbands, we would likely have never learned their names, or they may have been known as so-&-so’s wife.  So these two have lost their entire means of a living.  They’ve lost their security and standing in society.  They didn’t have husbands or children, and without a man in their lives, they wouldn’t have access to any societal benefits or work opportunities.  It was a hard world for women who weren’t under the protection and provision of a man.  This family had survived by sticking together.  And the two women left, were at risk of losing everything.

 

And this is the moment of crisis Jesus returns to.

 

Not only are these two women grieving.

Not only are they upset that Jesus didn’t return in time to save their brother.

Not only are they full of faith in what Jesus can do.

Not only are they full of love for Jesus.

But they are likely in a profound social and economic limbo.

 

Do any of you know what that feels like?

 

It kind of changes Jesus’ possible motives, does it not?

Jesus speaks often about caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widows and orphans.  And here we have two friends of Jesus who have been left in a position of vulnerability.  It makes me wonder all that may have been behind Jesus’ own tears, as he weeps in Mary’s presence.

 

Not only would Jesus’ next act – calling Lazarus to get up – to return from the dead – change the outcome for Lazarus himself.  Not only would it profoundly bear witness to God’s presence and power.  It would also change everything for both Mary and Martha.

And Jesus shows up for them

  • Not when they thought he should have –
  • Not before they experience deep pain and great loss –

But perfectly and profoundly.

 

Have you experienced this kind of deliverance before?

Late (in your estimation)

But perfect and profound, full of grace and love and goodness?

 

Quite often when God doesn’t show up in the moments we think God should, we grow discouraged and resentful.  If you told me you had some beefs with God over things, I’d tell you that you are not alone; I do too.  I wrestle with God over the presence and seeming victories of injustice.  I wrestle with God over the pain and suffering.  I complain to God about all the loss of color in my hair, the new streaks of white and gray.

But God has nonetheless, shown up in ways mighty and profoundly loving.

 

When Mr. Rogers was growing up, his mother used to tell him that in times of trouble, he should look for the helpers.  There are always helpers, she would say.

 

And so I ask you:  who have been your helpers?

 

I invite you to take 3 minutes right now and to remember and write the name some of these who have brought grace and provision, mercy and deliverance, love and compassion, healing and justice into your lives.

Please take a moment to actively remember. 

 

Through-out the Old Testament, God is instructing the people to remember, to write of God’s acts on their doorposts, to tell it to their children and children’s children, to erect monuments, and to enact rituals and holidays of remembering.  God knows how IMPORTANT it is for us to remember.  God knows how very scatter-brained we each can be when it comes to focusing on our blessings and giving thanks.  And God knows how easy it is for us to focus on our troubles instead of on our blessings, on our gifts, on our helpers.

 

Our God does not always show up when we think God should.

Our God does not always deliver us from pain and suffering.

But our God does show up.

And our God does deliver.

Our God does heal.

Our God does see.

Our God does weep with you and with me.

Our God does act, with righteousness and with justice, with mercy and with grace.

And our God does breathe life into the long dead, into dry, dry bones.

 

Heavenly Father, Holy Mother,

We believe.

Help our unbelief.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So Abram Went”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Genesis 12:1-4a

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

Genesis 12:1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went,


 

 

What a beautiful God we serve!

This passage from Genesis is simple.
And it is beautiful.

 

God planted this dream in Abraham.  God spoke and Abraham listened.

And then, Abraham followed.

 

It is that simple.

 

Did Abraham know the way?

No.  God said God would show him the way.

Did Abraham get to stay in the familiar and the comfortable?

No.  God said to leave everything he had known and to go.

 

And so, Abraham took this leap of faith.

Abraham chose to believe God over his own wisdom.

Abraham chose to follow God over his own Father and family.

Abraham allowed God into the nitty gritty of his life.

Really.

 

For Abraham, God was not a ritual.  Faith was not merely a profession.  Faith was not an assent to a belief system or set of doctrines.

No, for Abraham, God was his life-line.

For in their culture, people survived by clumping.  They survived by numbers and connections.  To go out alone was to ensure your own death.  There were no fast food chains.  There were no internet lists of best hotels and accommodations.  There wasn’t Google Translate or Rosetta Stone language learning systems.  Maps were limited.  And you stayed alive by staying among the familiar, surrounding yourself with family.

New folks in town could be completely on their own, outsiders and excluded.  And worse yet, you were most certainly more likely to be met by armed men than a welcome basket of home-baked goodies…

And God was specifically instructing Abraham to leave all his security, on a mere promise.

God promises to lead Abraham.  God promised to protect Abraham.  God promises to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing.

 

And Abraham believes.

 

This belief is not merely talk.
This belief is up close and personal.

This belief is living and active:  Abraham is leaning on God moment by moment to find his way forward.  Abraham is leaning on God to protect him.  Abraham has put all his eggs in God’s basket.

 

Have you ever experienced such a thing?
To put all your eggs in God’s basket??

 

When I was living at Camp Hanover, I felt God call me into church ministry.  And I was eager to follow.  But God had me on a journey of discovery and transformation as well.  God was freeing me from the weights of oppression.  God was freeing me to finally see and know myself.  God was freeing me to live more authentically true to who I am.

But I was searching for my next step.

And finally in the middle of a worship service at Ginter Park Presbyterian, God spoke to me through the hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.”  The phrase, “now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.  By your side, I will seek other seas” struck me.  I felt in my Spirit that God was calling me to walk away from my job, my security, my source of income…and to follow.

 

Now, I don’t think my leaving was as graceful as Abraham’s.  Or if Abraham’s leaving was ungraceful, we’re not privy to that information!  But I needed assurance.  I asked God to confirm it to me, and in moment by tiny & big moment, God made me know in my bones just how needed it was.  And finally, I followed.  I stepped away from where I was, in order to embrace where God was leading me.

And it was terrifying.

I dubbed it: “The Grand Experiment of My Life.”  I was the experiment.  And the question I was asking as I was followed was, “God, if I follow you, will you keep me from harm?  Will you bless me and make me a blessing?”

 

Now, I can assure you that my journey has not been without suffering.  We follow a God who came to us in Christ Jesus and knew an agonizing death.  And I have suffered following God.  That is true.

The way has been fraught with the effects of human sin and discrimination.  The way has been fraught with fears and uncertainties.  The way has been fraught with anger at injustice.

And yet, I once was dead, and I’ve come back alive!

I was lost, and now I’ve been found!

I was alone without true companionship and friendship, and now I am embraced in loving partnership and community.

 

I have grown in depth.

My eyes have opened to many whom I’d never before seen or understood.

I have learned to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

 

And I can honestly say that God has blessed me and made me a blessing. 

 

And my journey is not yet through.

I continue to follow after God:  listening for the still small voice; reclaiming my identity, responsibility, and power; laying down my fears (over and over again) at Christ’s dear feet; and asking God to direct my steps.

 

We all journey differently.  There is no one the same.  But until we let go and fall into God’s waiting arms, we will never truly know the depth of God’s love and mercy, grace and provision, deliverance and protection.  Until then, all these promises of God that we affirm Sunday after Sunday are hardly transformative and little understood.

 

So, will we, like Abraham, choose to follow where God leads?

Will we, like Abraham, release our death-grip on the comfortable and the familiar, in order to follow God into the promised land that awaits?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for the smallest and biggest aspects of our daily lives?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for our common life together, as church?

 

We believe in the cross and resurrection! 

Are we willing to allow God into our moments of obedience (…unto suffering and great loss…)

that we might finally KNOW our God who brings life out of death?

 

THIS is the God we serve.

The God who raised Jesus from the dead is our God.

May we KNOW that God.

May we believe that God.

May we trust our God.

And may we follow, such that our very lives witness – alongside the Bible – to the goodness, might, mercy, grace, healing, wholeness, beauty, protection, provision, and deliverance of our God,…our Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Amen.

“Speaking Truth to Temptation”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

 

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


 

I’ve never before stopped to consider these two scriptures side by side – the fall and the temptation of Jesus – but there are a number of parallels that perhaps are worth investigating.

In both the story of Adam and Eve and Jesus’ wilderness temptation, we learn that the characters are tempted by Satan, or the devil.  Each time, the devil approaches them.  And it is noteworthy that both Eve and Jesus respond to Satan by repeating God’s words to them.

The differences in these two stories, however, is what sets them apart.  In the Adam & Eve story, the devil plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind.  He suggests that what God has told them is not true and that God is really trying to keep them down, to subjugate them.  He suggests that disobedience to God’s instruction will actually make them all-wise and all-seeing, like God.  Eve and Adam bite the bait.  The seed of doubt takes root.  They decide they want to be like God.  They decide that perhaps life will be better for them if they disobey.

But what they find is great loss:  loss of innocence, loss of comfort and security, loss of daily communion with God in the garden.  And they gain turmoil, hard labor, pain and suffering, and ultimately death.  They die twice – first they die inwardly, second they die outwardly, first their spirit and then their bodies.

This is a painful story to witness, and yet it very well captures our same doubts, motives, and temptations.  We too want to be like God – knowing all things, seeing all things.  We too want to be master of our own houses, captain of our own ships.  We too fall for the suggestion that perhaps God is holding out on us and that we can get more from life by going our own way.

 

And then contrasting is Jesus’ story of temptation.  Like Eve, Jesus quotes God’s word back to the devil, but Jesus holds fast.  In fact Satan’s strategy with Jesus is to challenge who he is, his identity.  Twice he says to Jesus:  “If you are the Son of God,…” then do this, do that.  But Jesus doesn’t fall into this trap of trying to prove himself.  He doesn’t try to justify himself.  He doesn’t doubt or second-guess himself.  Instead, he holds fast to God’s word.  He holds fast to the truth God has shown him.

So when this assault on Jesus’ identity fails to work, Satan tries the good-ole “power, riches, and glory” temptation.  It works on most of us!  He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, promising to give it all to Jesus if Jesus just worships him.  But Jesus again holds fast to God’s word and commands Satan to be gone.  Jesus doesn’t fall for Satan’s lies.  Jesus doesn’t doubt God’s love for him.  Jesus doesn’t believe God is holding out on him and that more can be gained by going him own way.

No, Jesus knows the love of God.

Jesus knows the word of God.

Jesus trusts God to have the very best in store for him.

 

And Jesus knows who he is.

He is secure in his identity.

 

Isn’t this how so may of us go astray?

We question our identity.  We question our worth.  We question our value to God.  We question God’s love for us.  We question God’s good judgement – to best determine what’s in our very best interest.  And we rely too heavily on our limited scope of vision and desire.

 

When I was young I didn’t really understand how to read the Bible.  Even still, much of it remains a mystery.  After all, it is rather confusing and obscure.  It is definitely not like your usual books.  And the characters and stories are difficult.  How is one to even begin to understand how to apply them to their lives?

But in college, I got to know some of our brothers and sisters of other denominational flavors, and what I learned with them would change my life.  I learned that when God is speaking to the chosen people, God is also speaking to me, because God has adopted me into the family of God.  I learned that statements about God’s character help me understand God’s love for and relationship with even me.  And so, for the very first time, the scriptures became alive and personal, relevant to my everyday life.

At the bottom of this article, I’ve provided a list of some of these foundational scriptures that changed my life, strait from a tattered type-writer copy I kept from college.  Condensed on this list are scriptures that speak to who we are and whose we are.  On this list are promises from God to us.

I learned from these brothers and sisters that I could fight temptations by speaking God’s Word.  And so when I felt afraid, I would speak aloud, “Greater is he who is in me, than he who is in the world; if God is for me, who can be against me; and God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-discipline.”

Scriptures like these taught me who I am.  They spoke truth into fear.  They helped me re-ground in God’s word instead of reacting out of my own fears and doubts.  And they pointed me toward the life and hope that Christ died to give me.

 

We can learn from Adam and Eve and from Jesus.  They both knew God’s word to them.  But while Adam and Eve allowed lies, doubt in God’s love, and a lust for power and control to overtake them, Jesus clung to God’s word, holding fast.

 

May we learn God’s word.

May we cling to God’s word.

May we speak God’s truth into our fears and temptations.  Aloud.

And may we rest in the assurance of God’s love for us.

 

You are beloved by God.  You are of great worth to God.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb.  And there is no place you can go where God’s love won’t follow you. 

 

May we believe

And like Jesus, find our peace.

 

Amen.

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental 2