Posts

“The Church of God, for Today”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 20:1-20
Matthew 21:33-46

 

Exodus 20:1-20

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

 

 

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

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

 

 

It strikes me that the 10 Commandments are getting a lot less air-time than they used to.  When I was a child, they were one of the first things you learned in Sunday School.  But as we are all aware, we live in a different time and culture today.  Our children and their children are not getting the same Christian Education.

I am grateful that some of this is our realization that indoctrination is not the end-all, be-all.  We in fact want our children and our children’s children to come to know and love and the Lord God, with all their hearts and souls and minds and strengths…  And this does not come by rote.  It does not come intrinsically by Sunday School attendance.  It does not come by perfect church attendance.  It does not come by memorizing all the rules.  It does not even necessarily come from following all the rules.

 

Loving and knowing God simply cannot be educated into a person.  Being loved by God cannot be earned or deserved.  And the journey of faith is a journey of the heart, a journey of living.

 

But the education piece was nonetheless valuable – invaluable in fact.  We were learning more about God by studying God’s word, memorizing those words, and discussing them in Bible Studies and Sunday School classes.  We were learning from one another, as we sought God’s face together in church.  And much of these gems of Christian life are no longer part of the next generations’ experiences.

 

We mourn this loss in the church.

We can wistfully look back on the good-ole-days.

 

As for me, I miss the long table full of food – on church potluck evenings!  I miss playing out in the church yard, while my parents had choir rehearsal.  I miss the nursery – the nursery! – where there were always cheerios to be had, building blocks to stack, and comrades to play with and arm wrestle.

I miss youth group!  I miss the ridiculous games we played.  I miss our trips to Montreat Conference Center.  I miss our Habitat builds.  I miss the lock-ins…

I miss my college fellowship group.  I miss “Walk to Emmaeus,” or “Chrysalis,” an intensive faith formation weekend for disciples and church leaders.  I miss fall retreats.  I miss the holiday dances…

 

But there have also been gains:

  • we now understand that dressing to the nines is not a pre-requisite of holiness and respect,
  • we now know that church is meant to bolster a LIFE of faith (and not be the end-all, in and of itself),
  • we now accept that there are a myriad of ways to serve God – both inside and outside the  church,
  • we are much more attuned to listen to God’s voice in our everyday – rather than expecting our entire spiritual nourishment to come on a Sunday morning,
  • we have stopped shaming those who drink on Sundays,
  • we have stopped shaming those who must work on Sundays,
  • we’ve stopped forbidding folks from playing cards on Sundays,
  • we’ve mostly stopped judging people for having tattoos,
  • many have stopped shaming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,
  • women have been accepted into more of the leadership of the church – and less cloistered to the halls of the “Presbyterian Women” and other alternative, segregated, branches of leadership,
  • we have begun to open ourselves to learn about God from folks who do not look like us, share our background, or meet our own educational status,
  • persons of varied colors and races are more able to gather in one place to worship God,
  • we have opened to new experiences of worship,
  • we have allowed greater diversity of faith expression – in music and liturgy and practice…
  • Pastors are no longer living in manses, where they were expected to be at everyone’s beck and call.
  • Pastors are setting aside and guarding time with their families and with their God – with intentionality – recognizing that the former ways of neglecting family and self are lacking in God’s faithfulness and love to family and self.

 

There have been both loss AND gains.

 

The new generations have begun to question things that were never questioned before.  They cringe to tell children the story of Noah’s ark – since most creatures and people were simply wiped off the face of the earth, drowned by God.

They are concerned by stories of a vengeful God.

They do not know what to make of God’s commands to kill all the Gentile unbelievers off the promised land.

They don’t know what to make of a “Father” God who sends his son to be killed, sacrificed!

And many are concerned about how modern day Israel is interfacing with the Palestinians and their geographic neighbors.

 

They don’t want to proceed with blind faith.

They don’t want to walk with blinders on.

They don’t want abject obedience – without thoughtfulness and mindfulness.

 

And I must say, that frankly, I respect this authenticity, this honesty, this courageous truthfulness.

I respect all who choose to press into the harder questions of faith.

I respect those who choose to employ the brain God gave them – trusting God to lead them to truth.

I respect those who do not simply lean on conventional wisdom, but who investigate things for themselves and do their homework.

 

It is respectable.

 

But is also means we don’t have the former full-load of attendees in worship.

It means folks are not just giving money to the church, but also to beautiful, new non-profits.

It means folks are not always present on Sunday, because they are finding spiritual nourishment in a variety of places.

 

Again, we have gains and losses.

As a people, we are at once growing and shrinking – learning and regressing.

 

And what of these 10 Commandments?

They do not have the following they used to.  Or at least folks do not study and memorize them as often.  And I do think that is a loss.  Many outside our walls (and some of you within them) dismiss the Old Testament altogether.  The God portrayed there seems vengeful and petty, re-active and harsh, unforgiving and playing favorites.

But the Old and New Testaments – while different – are not meant to tell two different stories.  Rather, they tell one story.  And when we hold that story as one whole, we can begin to better understand the difficult parts of the Old Testament.

We believe that Christ is the greatest revelation of God!  And so through the lense of Jesus Christ, we are to re-visit these Old Testament stories, these texts.  And we are to understand them from the perspective of this greatest revelation of God – the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!

And so we can begin to piece together God’s purposes.  We begin to piece together God’s heart.  We begin to understand that these rules – the 10 Commandments – are not legalistic.  Rather, they are for the purpose of blessing.

Over and over, God explains why – that you may be blessed, that you may live long in the land God is giving you, that you may not sin and endure those consequences but rather obey and experience God’s steadfast love – from generation to generation to come.

 

Just as our earthly parents wish to guide us in goodness that our lives may be full of happiness and spared of pain, our heavenly Father wishes to guide us in living lives of righteousness – that we might not miss out on the goodness and blessing God intends for us!

How do you feel when your child just won’t obey?
…when they fight your best intentions,
…when they mistrust you and deliberately rebel – thinking they’ll miss out on the best by being obedient…

It’s heart-breaking, is it not?

We watch as they make tragic, life-diminishing, enslaving, harmful, and hurtful choices.

 

And God’s heart too breaksbreaks for us all.
For we have all gone astray.
We have all doubted God’s goodness and heart.
We have doubted God’s future of hope – both for ourselves and for our congregation. 

 

But what would happen if we learn these rules?
What would happen if we study the scriptures?
What would happen if we choose to believe God’s Word over our own fears and wistful feelings of loss?

What would happen?

 

Might we finally experience,
For ourselves,
God’s mighty provision,
The blessings of obedience,
The relief of trust – replacing doubt,
The assurance of faith?  …in this, our journey with God?

 

For everything there is a time and a season. 

We are not in the same season as the one that built our beautiful sanctuary.

We do not have the same folks who gave of all their free-time to decorate and maintain and plan and serve in this place.

We do not have a host of members, pledging money and volunteering their free time.

We do not have a full-time pastor, who is always available.

 

But what is God’s calling to us, in THIS season?

Could it be that we are called for such a time as this??…

  • Might we be a place where the disillusioned can come to God honestly, and without pretense?
  • Might we be a place where the disconnected can experience the steadfast and unconditional love of the Father?
  • Might we be a place where the discouraged, hear a word of encouragement and find strength for their journeys?
  • Might we be a place where the angry can come as they are, in honesty, and be heard and validated?
  • Might we be a place where the hopeless begin to hope again?
  • Might we be a place where the seeking can find?
  • Might we be a place where truth is spoken, and freedom is found?
  • Might we be a place where sin is recognized and released?
  • Might we be a place of forgiveness, seventy-seven times?
  • Might we be a place with our eyes SET on the goal – the heavenly calling of Christ?
  • Might we be a place that does not get bogged down in the weeds, but keeps our gaze onward?
  • Might we be a place where we can agree to disagree – where each one is valued because God made them, and not because they hold to all of our beliefs and value systems?
  • Might we be a place where grace is given and boundaries are set – where we find undeserved blessing, while also fiercely protecting all that is sacred and holy among us?
  • Might we be a place where folks can explore their scary questions of faith -without judgement or condemnation, but with encouragement and support?
  • Might we be a place where folks are not valued and sized up by how often they attend, how much they give, or how much they volunteer.
  • Might we be a place where each persons journey and choices are respected – while we each seek to listen for and be faithful to God’s invitation to press in, step up, take responsibility?
  • Might we be a place where the Spirit of the Living God is mightily felt and swiftly obeyed?
  • Might we be a place where God’s unfathomable, unconditional, undeserved love is experienced and shared?

 

Might we be a place where folks

encounter

 

…the Living God?!?!

 

 

“Gratitude – Bringing Truth into Focus”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 78:1-16
Exodus 17:1-7

 

Psalm 78:1-16

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

The Ephraimites, armed with[a] the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

 

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

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

 

 

We have been following the story of the Israelites, from Jacob to Moses this summer, and it is ever so striking how faithless the people, these chosen ones, God’s people, seem to be.  Is it any wonder they also experience God’s wrath – as they, who have been blessed so abundantly, stray so very far from God’s ways and God’s heart?!

Finally, under Moses’ leadership, the nation has been liberated from the heavy hand of Egypt, but despite having witnessed God’s judgement on Egypt in sign and wonder and heart-break; despite having narrowly escaped the full military power of Egypt, crossing the very Red Sea on foot, while the waters ceased their flow on both sides of them; despite receiving manna in the morning and quail in the evening the people still doubt God.  The people still complain.  The people still fear for their well-being.  They fear they will not have…food and pleasure and provision.

Can you believe it? 
Would you be changed if you’d walked through a corridor of water, held back by the hand of God, saving your life in the nick of time?
Would you be changed if you were rescued out of slavery?!

It is easy to point the finger.

 

And yet,…
What about you?
What about me?

 

As for myself, I was blessed to be raised in a family of God-fearing parents.  I was sheltered from many a storm and heartache because of that.

And each summer, though my parents could not afford anything extra, my church gave me and each of my siblings scholarships to attend the area Presbyterian Camp, where I came alive!  It was there in my final summer, that I felt God’s call to ministry.

And most every summer my church or my family would make their way to Montreat Conference Center, in the mountains of North Carolina.  There we’d rock hop, explore old micah mines, hike, sing, and wade in the cold crisp mountain stream.  The camping option there always gave us a way in, even though the hotel was out of reach.  And to this day, Montreat is where my heart feels home.

When my parents split up and my heart felt it was splitting in two, my youth minister showed me great love, calling me every single morning, before school, to pray with me.  She knew I needed the support.  And she led us in Bible Study, which I was really finding delicious, for the first time.  She taught us that it wasn’t about religion at all but about relationship, a relationship with God, and that made all the difference.

And I was blessed to attend Presbyterian College, where I got to learn from amazing professors in my fields, of religion, philosophy, and music.  There, I got to ask all the hard questions, put my faith on the line, come to end of myself, and find that God was still the most real thing in all the world to me.

A year later I got to attend Union Presbyterian Seminary and explore my faith further – hoping to find all the answers but rather uncovering more and more questions.  Faith would have to grow or fade.  And again I would have the chance to face the demons in our spiritual closets, to face difficult scripture passages, and to continue on my slow journey of trusting God in the process of my life.

And though I’d felt called to ministry at 16, I couldn’t see the path forward at the time.  I was deeply shy, introspective, introverted, soft-spoken.  I couldn’t see how I could be used by God for such work.  I thought being gregarious and funny, outgoing and extraverted were all necessary for the job.  But I trusted that if God called me, God would equip me.  And twenty years from the time of my calling, I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) at Camp Hanover.  Despite many doubts, much time, unforeseen obstacles, and test after test after examination, God fulfilled this call in my life.  What a tremendous gift!

 

Now, most often when I recall my childhood, I will recall how I felt bullied most all the time.  I recall being excluded by church “friends” from events and conversation.  I recall being looked down on as a scrawny kid, the slowest in my age group on swim team.  I recall playing softball and being sometimes lovingly and sometimes meanly mocked for my “positive” way of encouraging each player up at bat.

I recall how my family never had new things.  We never had new school supplies or clothes.  We frequently window shopped – which meant looking and not buying.  And if we did buy, it was at the discount Sears store, but most often we merely window shopped,…there.  I recall our stopping at the day-old bakery to buy almost-gone goodies – where you were in a race with time to eat it before it molded.  I still can recall the taste of moldy powdered doughnuts!  I recall the way my Mom made a little last a long, long way  – cutting mold off cheese, making milk from powder, and eating week-old leftovers.

I recall my hatred of sixth grade when I was bused to a magnet school for music – two hours there, two hours back – only to be a magnet for other’s abuse.  I recall how the Assistant Principal at my middle school called me into her office one day to ask if I was okay.  I was shocked that she could see how very depressed I was.  Ostracized by my peers, I had learned to make friends with the friend-less, but I felt very alone.

And I can go on and on.

 

These experiences of pain and suffering make their indelible mark, do they not? 

And yet, through-out all the food-stretching, I saw my mom make jam & the best cookies on the planet.  We enjoyed dollar movies at the discount movie theater and my Mom would carry in all kinds of snacks for us to enjoy – smuggled in, in a baby diaper bag (long after diapers were a things of the past!).

Through-out all the school isolation, I did know friendship.  I had a best friend in 1st grade, till she moved away.  I had a best friend in 2nd and 3rd, until a new student convinced her that it was not okay for her, a black girl, to hang with me, a white girl.  And in late middle school, a new girl transferred to the school who was already “pre-engaged” to a high schooler.  It seemed she had done all the forbidden things, as she was from the countryside where it seemed folks had nothing else to do but drink and make out.  So she started out at our school as a pariah, but she became my friend.  And in high school, I finally made the best friend I’d ever had:  Jane Trexler.  She lived in my neighborhood & was the opposite of me.  I was invisible.  She was popular.  I was shy.  She was student body president.  I was skin and bones.  She looked lovely and mature.  And we walked – walked around our neighborhood – we shared life and faith and friendship.

I did find my way. 

I knew friendship. 

I had food to eat. 

I had shelter. 

 

I was blessed. 

 

What about you?
When you look back, what do you recall?

 

It is easiest to recall the pain.  It is easiest to recall the injustice, the unfairness, the times we’ve felt slighted and hurt.  That is natural.

 

But do we also recall the times we are blown away by God – like when my youth minister called me every morning at 6:30 am, just to pray with me?

Do we recall when we are surprised by God – like when my family went to the state fair and a church friend happened to show up, giving us free tickets?!

Do we recall when God rescues us from the disasters that the befall us – like when the Presbyterian Board of Pensions helped me pay unexpected medical bills?

Do we recall when God rescues us from the disasters we may bring on ourselves – like when God woke me up from my slumber and led me out of a marriage where I endured continual emotional abuse and was slowly dying to my true self?

 

Our God is alive.
Our God is moving.
God is showing up for each of us, in ways big and small.

But if we do not consciously REMEMBER this stories, TELL these stories, RECALL these stories…we forget.  We become lost at sea – terrified by the next dark cloud up ahead.

THESE moments of God’s mighty provision, God’s mighty rescue, God’s mighty presence and power are touchstones – they are grounding, they are re-orienting, they put things into perspective, they bring the truth into focus.

 

If I only focus on the bad things I have endured, I have a big bone to pick with God.  WHY did I have to endure such bullying, such ostracizing, such loneliness?  WHY did I have to endure scarcity and want?  WHY did I have to go through the breaking up of my family?

BUT when I choose to remember God’s acts through-out my life, I know God is with me.  God’s hands are present – in comfort, in manna and quail, in prayer, in friendship, in growth, in meaning, in calling, in overcoming, in drawing me near!  When I choose to remember God’s acts through-out my life, I see how very blessed I am.  I see that God had the past, and that I can trust God for whatever may lie ahead. 

 

REMEMBERING grounds us.
REMEMBERING sheds light on the truth.
REMEMBERING helps us not loose our way, through the stormy seas of life.

 

Like the Israelites, we too have been mightily blessed, mightily rescued, mightily known, mightily loved and called.  But just like the Israelites, unless we choose to recall God’s mighty acts, we too become ungrateful, entitled, fearful, demanding,…lost.

 

We must choose remembrance.

We must choose to share.

We must choose to recall.

 

That’s what these gratitude stories have been about.  For it is in building a spiritual practice of gratitude, that we remember and give thanks.  And these are the stories that remind us who we are and whose we are. 

 

May we be a people,
Chosen and beloved
Who remember and share,
The mighty acts of God.

 

 

 

 

 

“Wilderness Road to the Promised Land”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 16:2-15
Philippians 1:21-30

 

Exodus 16:2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

 

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

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

 

The Israelites have escaped the prison of their temporary home in Egypt.  They have become free!  And that means change, A LOT of change.

 

Though they were enslaved, oppressed, and beaten down, they did have food to eat.
Food fueled the Egyptian labor-force.

And these Israelites do not remember what it is like to be free.  They have acclimated.  They have adapted.  They have their comforts, their routines, their simple pleasure – all of which have been uprooted with this run for freedom.

 

The new generations only know enslavement, so they’ve not gotten to exercise their muscles of self-will, of self-determination, and perhaps of self-respect.  Instead of plotting their own journey, they’ve been going along, following the orders of another.

And so this unimagined freedom now calls on them to grow in ways they may have become weak.  They must forage their own food, build their own dwellings, set their own course.  And if they fail to do so, they will be hungry, they will be thirsty, …they may starve.

And these are precisely their complaints to Moses as they journey through the wilderness.  There is no water.  They are thirsty!  The water is bitter.  They are thirsty!  This miss meat.  They are hungry! 

 

And they start to reminisce back to their days of enslavement in Egypt.  THERE they at least had meat.  Better to die a slave, eating meat, than to starve a free soul, they complain.

 

 

And it strikes me, that as we venture into the unknown territory of freedom, we encounter risks, unknowns, fears, and discomforts.  But if we do not venture into freedom, we will surely die, never having lived.  For what is living, if it is not freedom?!

And I think of our journey as a church of God.

 

We see the path by which we came.  Those who came before built this gorgeous sanctuary at a time when churches were busting at the seams in America.  The wars had ceased, the people had returned to faith and family, and babies were being born.  There was a faith in the church, a faith in organizations, a faith in institutions.  And so we came to this point:  education rooms were built to teach the children, youth, and adults about Jesus.  And this large and lovely sanctuary replaced our beautiful first sanctuary – now the fellowship hall.

We can see the path by which we came.   Just as the Israelites came to Egypt at a critical time – to survive famine and to thrive amidst it all – we came to this place because the times demanded it.

But just as the Israelite’s situation continued to evolve until they were enslaved to the Egyptians, we too have continued to change until we have become enslaved to our own building.  It’s simply far too big and aged and exquisite for our small band to easily maintain.  And so we are compelled to look toward a different future.  We must change or face our eventual death.

 

Like the Israelites, we sit at the brink – our food in hand, dressed, shoes on, ready to go.  We have been researching and preparing, praying and discerning in order to envision the pathway forward for our blessed congregation.

And we do not see the path ahead.  We can only see what came before.

And we are uncomfortable.  For in stepping out into the unknown – in negotiating with potential renters and partners in mission and ministry – we lose our sense of control.  We cannot predict next moves.  We do not yet know where our provision, our water, our food, our provision will come from.  And we grow anxious.

 

And we too start to grumble and complain: If we could just keep doing what we’ve always done, at least we’d be comfortable, but now God, have you brought us out here, that we may perish in the wilderness?  …In the places of discomfort and unknown?

God are you bringing us out in order to smite us more quickly?

God, if we’d just kept going as we were, we would die, but at least we’d die singing our favorite hymns…

 

Does this feel at all relevant?  Does it touch on some of our experiences?

 

Transitions are extraordinarily difficult, especially for some of us.  It often comes down to how we’re wired.  Uncertainties can feel intolerably risky.  Loss of control can feel like a death.

Transitions are hard. 

 

…And yet God calls us out.
God calls us out of darkness and into the light.
God is calling us out of death and into life.

 

And that life together will be different.
It will take time to build up and tear down.
It will take planning and starting.  …Stopping and revising and starting again.  …Over and over.

 

Like the Israelites, we will reach places where we cannot see a path forward, where death feels imminent.  But when its God doing the calling, God doing the inviting, God doing the freeing, God provides.  But not before we complain.  And not always before our discomforts and fear.

 

And so we have choices – to trust or to doubt.  Is God leading us?  And if God is, can we trust God?

We have choices – to trust one another or to doubt.  Do we believe that where two or more are gathered in God’s name that God is there too?

We have choices – do we believe that God is using ALL things for good?  Even our individual and collective mistakes?

We have choices – do we believe that God will continue to direct and redirect us as we take faithful steps?  Are we tuning our ears to hear that still small voice saying, “This is the way.  Walk in it.”

 

 

And so, as we follow God out of the land of the familiar, the land of comfort, and the land of our eventual or sudden death,…will we trust?  Will we trust God and one another?

Will we trust God for our provision – even when we cannot yet see it on the horizon?

Will we trust God to meet our needs – providing familiar comforts, even as we journey outside the lines of our narrow worlds?

 

Do we believe that God is doing a work among us?

 

For if we do, then the invitation is to follow. 

 

The Israelites were blessed, in order to BE a blessing!  They were to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness.  THROUGH THEM, the whole world would be blessed!  That was God’s plan.  But they couldn’t do it enslaved in Egypt.
They had to step out.
They had to journey through wilderness.
And God would indeed bless them and make them a blessing! 

 

Will we continue to step out?
Will we continue to release control?
Will we choose trust?

 

We cannot follow God if we refuse to move.
We cannot follow God if we refuse to grow, to be changed.
We cannot follow God if we are enslaved…to sin, to fear, to dissension, … or even to our building.
We cannot follow God if we’re intent on being the Leader and not the follower.
We cannot hold the reigns of control AND follow God.

 

But for those who follow,
Who venture into the unknown,
Who choose radical trust and work to build a new way of life,
There is miracle and wonder, halleluia’s and praise the Lord’s,
There is hard-won peace, provision, milk & honey…

 

THIS is the legacy of God’s children. 

Will we follow God boldly into the wilderness unknown? 

 

 

 

“Loudly He Wept”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Genesis 45:1-15

 

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.


 

What goodness can follow atrocity.  What healing can come after grave injury.  What morning light can dawn after fierce storms.

 

Here we witness the reunion of these brothers, from one Father and several different mothers.  It is a reunion none of them saw coming…or not exactly.  These brothers had betrayed their own humanity, selling their own brother Joseph to traders to be a slave.  But in a strange and twisted yet truthful kind of way, we can be grateful that they brothers had chosen to sell him over killing him, which was their first instinct.

You see they hated him.  He said things.  Unwise things.

God filled young Joseph with dreams and visions.  And naïve or unfiltered or autistic or perhaps boastful as he was (…we do not know why), he spoke these dreams aloud, no filter, sharing them with his family.  And they did not take kindly to these visions – for Joseph dreamed that he would rule over his brothers and whole family.

It was unsettling.

 

I have wished he’d paused a moment to assess and to reconsider sharing these dreams.  I wonder if he even perceived how it would be taken by his siblings.  Did he sense their anger and resentment?  Did he not anticipate their jealousy over the favor his father showed him?

And why did Joseph share the 2nd time?  He shared one time, and I imagine that couldn’t have gone well.  So when he had yet another of these dreams, why did he share it yet again?

I do not know.

My heart breaks for him.

 

Can you imagine the emotional trauma?  Talk about post-traumatic-stress!
Can you imagine the betrayal?  Can you imagine the sense of abandonment?

What scars Joseph must have carried.  What fears he must have had to live with.

 

He was a good worker and advanced in his servant role to a man named Potiphar, but alas, Potiphar’s wife took interest in him, and when her advances were shunned she decided to slander Joseph – accusing him of violating her.

And thus, Joseph is thrown into yet another hole.  This time it isn’t an abandoned well – meant to hold him until his murder by family.  It isn’t the abandoned well that ended up being his holding cell before being sold to strangers and taken away from all he knew and everyone he held dear.  No, this time it was an actual cell, the hole of prison, and he stayed there for a long, long time, falsely accused, with no justice.

 

Some among us truly endure far more pain and loss than others of us.  Some of us FEEL more pain in our experiences than others.  And some have hardened the walls of their hearts to protect them from these painful moments, years, and lifetimes.

Joseph was one who endured more than he ever should have had to.

Even if he was boastful or proud, sharing his dreams and visions…
Even though his father favored him above the others…
Even if he was unwise in sharing his dreams…

It doesn’t matter.  None of this should have stripped him of home and family and freedom.

…and for SO long.

 

Yet this is Joseph’s story.

 

And when his brothers begin journeying to Egypt to buy grain – after Joseph’s interpretation of dreams has finally freed him from prison and placed him even over Pharaoh’s entire household that he might lead the nation in surviving the coming years of great famine – these brothers have no idea they will see their brother.  They have no idea where he is.  They do not know whether he is dead or alive.  He was probably the last person they ever expected to see again.

And can you imagine Joseph’s feelings upon seeing them?

You’ll see he first tests his brothers.  He puts them in compromised situations in order to see how they will handle themselves.  He wants to be sure that his younger brother Benjamin – his only full-blooded brother – is not being mistreated as well.  He wants to know who his brothers have become.

And when he experiences their changed hearts, he is broken open with grief released and gladness.  He is overcome, such that he can no longer hold back, but weeps so loudly that all of Pharaoh’s house hear it.

 

I have long loved this story.  It may be my favorite in the Bible.  But what I am moved by today is Joseph’s release.  He can no longer hold in his feelings.  They all come tumbling out.  Finally.

And furthermore, I wonder if his dreams came back to mind.  Did he remember his celestial dream, where his family bowed before him, …now that they are all bowing before him?  Could any of them have foreseen the path Joseph would walk to get to this point?  Could any of them have foreseen how their own actions would be woven by God into a tapestry of goodness and life?  Could any have imagined how, what was intended for evil, God used for great good?  And here Joseph is, choosing to see his life, not as a victim but as a messenger, sent ahead of them by God, to save lives.

 

I tend to have visions of an end but no idea as to how to get there.  Like Joseph, I am left wondering what it all means, as none of it yet seems true.  And I’ve long wondered why God does this.  Why does God give me vision?

Sometimes, especially when I am in the pits of life, I can resent these visions because they seem so far-fetched.  I can get discouraged.

But God is faithful.
Whatever God says, is true. 

If God says something will be, then it will be.  And God can use whatever comes, to get there.  We can work with God or against God.  Those are our choices.

 

Joseph chose to trust his dreams and visions.  God showed him, over and over again that they were true.  He was leading an entire nation in preparing for a major time of famine – based solely on a dream…a dream

And yet, to this point, he had not yet seen his earliest dreams come true…

Until

Now.

 

God speaks to each one of us, in different ways.

Some dream dreams.
Some interpret.
Some have visions.
Some interpret.
Some perceive the end.
Some perceive the path.

But God is speaking.
And God is trustworthy. 

 

May we have the courage and audacity

To follow our dreams – the visions God plants in our hearts –
And to believe that God is indeed working ALL things for good
For those who love God
And are called according to God’s purposes.
For God is the primary actor in this play.
God is using it all to save lives. 

God is working God’s purposes out.

Will we trust God’s call,
and join in the work? 

 


 

PRAYERS   

                                                                       (Iona Abby WB)
Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives,
as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike
refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice.
As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water,
flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other.
As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us
renew us now in newness of life and unity of love.
As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb,
hold us now in the power and peace of your abiding presence. 

                                                                        (Richard J. Foster)
Today I accept your acceptance of me.
I confess that you are always with me and always for me.
I receive into my spirit your grace, your mercy, your care.
I rest in your love, O Lord.  I rest in your love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLESSING                                            (Vienna Cobb Anderson)

The blessing of God,

whose love reconciles all who are divided,

be with you

as you seek to heal the brokenness

around you.

“Unimaginable”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 17
Matthew 14:13-21

 

Psalm 17

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart,
though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled.

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.

They close up their callous hearts,
and their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a fierce lion crouching in cover.

Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;
with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
By your hand save me from such people, Lord,
from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
may their children gorge themselves on it,
and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

 

Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.


 

Imagine this scenario.

Jesus receives news of what has befallen his cousin John, who he later says is Elijah returned.  In gross human tragedy, jealousy, lust, power, shame, revenge, and the needless shedding of blood, John is beheaded – his head delivered on a silver platter to Herod’s niece-now-daughter-in-law.

 

Can you begin to imagine such evil perpetrated against your cousin?  Against someone doing such good and proclaiming truth and justice?

This is where Jesus finds himself – in need of rest, in need of quiet, in need of solitude.

And so they deliberately leave by boat, as quietly as they can.  They head to a remote place.  But the people – yearning for healing, seeking help and guidance and wisdom – they have followed him from the shore, on foot.  And now this usually remote area is filled to the brim, teaming, with people – parent and child, sick and well, men and women and people of every dimension.

Jesus lands only to find a large crowd.

 

I would have been angry at the people, I imagine.  I might have broken down in tears of exhaustion and grief.  I might have instructed the disciples to just keep on going and going – anywhere but there.

But Jesus sees them, and even through the eyes of his grief, he has compassion on them.  And he begins his sacred work, his holy work of healing the sick.

 

As evening approaches, everyone gets a little more restless.  It is mealtime, and there are no provisions, no homes and families or town there.  How shall they all eat?

So the disciples begin to encourage Jesus to send the crowd away.  Perhaps if they go now, they can make it to villages to find food for themselves.  The disciples know that the people will keep waiting their turn to be touched by Jesus’ hand, to be beheld in Jesus’ eyes, to receive and cherish his words.  They have traveled long.  They are tired and hungry.  But the waiting is worth it.

But Jesus does not respond reasonably. 

A reasonable person would come to the same conclusion.

A reasonable person would assess the scenario:

  • No food there to purchase
  • No food there to harvest
  • No money to buy food even if it was nearby
  • AND 5000 men + women and children
  • = bad news

 

This kind of assessment is important, is it not?

It’s how we live and don’t starve.

It’s how we work out housing and transportation and work.

The need to eat is vital and central.  Most other things revolve around it.  Most other things support this one critical human need.

Jesus knows they are a large crowd of deities or super-humans.  Jesus knows they must eat.  Jesus knows the situation.  Jesus knows human vulnerability and temptation.  Jesus remembers they are each made of dust.

 

And yet, Jesus tells the disciples give them something to eat (the CROWD, that is – some 5000+++ people).

I’m pretty sure that if Jesus and his disciples packed a dinner at all, it was likely meant to serve only 13-20, perhaps.  They were expecting a solitary camp, not a coliseum’s-worth of people on shore.

 

Have you ever been in such a scenario?

 

I love camping.  But there are many kinds of camping in this world.

There is the camping that Jesus and his disciples had expected to do – likely laying underneath the stars and cooking fish over the fire.

There is camping my sister and brother-in-law like to do:  carrying everything they need, carefully weighed and planned – on their backs for days or weeks of hiking in the wilderness.

There is camping like Incy’s brother and family enjoy:  where they park RV’s together, decked out with every imagined convenience.

And there is camping I am accustomed to:  car camping.  Whatever fits into the car can come:  a tent, a tarp, cooking gear, sleeping bag, handsaw, matches, pots and pans.  This is how my mother gave us the experience of traveling around the whole united states one summer.  It was crazy and empowering…and magical.

When I shop, I make lists.  When I organize my work, I make lists.  And when I camp, I make a list.  I actually keep a running list – to help with things I might forget between camping trips.  I try to think of everything:  what if it rains the whole time, what if the wood is too wet, what if everything we have gets soaked, and on and on.

For campers like Incy’s brother there is a term:  Glamper.  It means glamorous camper!

For campers like me – there is no term – so she made up one:  Pramper.  It means prepared camper.

 

That is me.
That is how I feel most comfortable operating in the world.

 

I like having everything on ready.  I like to know where everything is – extremely organized.  I organize my snack basket on any road trip so very carefully that I can reach back & easily find most things I want, without turning my head to look.

I am distressed by disorganization.  I feel stressed when my environment is cluttered or unkept.

Basically, I like being prepared in every area of life.

 

But as you might imagine, it hasn’t worked for me very well.  Not only did life throw more curve balls than I could ever imagine, but I have had to walk into the unknown, which I do not like.  I am naturally that person who likes to sit quietly at the back of the room – to study people, to listen, to observe.  I don’t want to say anything embarrassing.  I don’t want to say anything inaccurate.  I want to gauge the room.  I want to think a lot before I speak.

But I’ve had to deviate from my comfort.  I have felt God calling me to speak up – and have churned inside until I obey.  I like to follow, but God keeps calling me out – to speak out, to share vision, to invite others into greater discipleship.

I have had to leave the places of my security and preparedness in order to be obedient to the Spirit of God and in order to love those God calls me to love. 

 

Funny how others don’t walk my plans very well.  Funny how they seem to sabotage my expectations, over and over.  Funny…

What’s truly funny is that I thought I could “control” others.
What’s funny is that I thought I should “control” others.
What’s funny is that I tried to “control” others.

 

And it never worked; in the end it wasn’t loving.

I could not both love and respect others

AND

Control them.

 

And even when I tried to hide my intentions, they could always feel it.
It created wedges.
It seeded mistrust.

 

And I was faced with the call to truly let go of my security blanket.

 

I was called to follow God in faith – not chart out the entire passageway. 

Like Lewis and Clark, I prepare for everything I can foresee.  But then when the rivers no longer take me forward and mountains loom ahead, I have to look around me, I have to listen, I have to humble myself in collaboration and prayer, and I have to step out into the unknown – making it up as we go.

 

And this has been a massive journey in my life:  this journey from my natural prepared – play-it-safe positioning INTO a trusting of God in the process, a trusting of those with whom I take this journey, and a trusting of myself.

And this is HARD because as you know, Jesus was crucified.  Bad things DO HAPPEN to good people.  Jesus Christ is not insurance for the good life but actually told us we would suffer.

This trust has been hard won. 
But it has been life to me.

 

I have had to flee from control like an addictive substance, because it has been that to me. 

And this new experiment of faith – this experience of letting go and letting God – has been absolute LIFE and HOPE and JOY and SURPRISE and LOVE to me.

 

Through the years of heartache along my journey of discovery and learning to let go and to trust, I accepted that there will always be factors out of my control.  And that as scary as that feels, that is also hopeful, because God is ever doing a new thing.  And what we have today will be different from what we have tomorrow.

We cannot accurately assess the future because we do not yet have, all that we will have, at that time.

We cannot accurately assess the future because we do not yet have, all that we will have, when the time comes.

Someone else more eloquently said, “You cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with today’s answers.” 

 

Jesus knew this.
Jesus know of more resources than any others could perceive, moment to moment.

 

Did he physically multiply the loaves and fish to feed that enormous crowd?

Some have suggested that the miracle may have been one of sharing.

You know the idea of stone soup, do you not?  The host says, “Come on over.  I’m making soup.  Bring whatever you have to put in the pot.”  And as each guest come, carrots are added, potatoes, celery, some chicken…and eventually it is a wholesome, nourishing soup – even though the host only had water and a stone in the pot to start with.

Might the miracle have been that everyone shared?  That everyone let go of their precious food to share with others?

 

Perhaps.  That would be miracle – in their day or in ours!

 

I do not know how Jesus did it.  But whether the miracle performed was in the hearts and hands of the individuals such that they opened themselves to share with one another OR Jesus in his power turned two fish into twenty thousand, I believe Jesus CAN do that.

I believe.

 

There are many lessons we will glean from this account in our lifetimes.  But today may we be attentive to Christ’s provision – unexpected, unimagined, unfathomable, yet delivered right on time. 

 

And as Christ’s disciples long ago, may we – Christ’s disciples here and now – leave room for the unexpected.  May we not limit the possibilities of what can be by what we already see or what has been.  For our God is still creating.  Our God is still providing.  Our God is still renewing and remaking all things.  And we cannot yet imagine the miracles and visions God will make reality, in us and through us. 

 

Thanks be to God!!

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

PRAYERS

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

I keep projecting my present condition onto the future.  If I feel dark, the future looks dark.  If I feel bright, the future looks bright.  But who am I to know what life will be like for me tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now?  Even more, who am I to know who you will be for me in the year ahead?  O Lord, I will not bind you with my own limited and limiting ideas and feelings.  You can do so many things with me, things that might seem totally impossible to me.  I want at least to remain open to the free movement of your Spirit in my life.  Why do I keep saying to myself:  “I will never be a saint.  I will never be able to overcome my impulses and desires.”  If I keep saying that, I might prevent you from healing and touching me deeply.  O Lord, let me remain free to let you come, whenever and however you desire.

Chippewa Song

Sometimes I go about pitying myself
While I am being carried by the wind across the sky.

Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

As swimmers dare to life face to the sky and waters bears them,
As hawks rest upon air and air sustains them,
So would I learn to attain freefall,
And float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
Knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace.