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“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? 

 

 

 

“The More, The Better”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21
Numbers 11:24-30

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.


 

Just before this part in Moses’ story among the people of Israel journeying in the wilderness, the people have been complaining.  For though God has been supplying them with manna – simply forming on surfaces early in the morning – for which they had neither to plant nor reap, some among them are disgruntled as they recall how they ate in Egypt: the fish, leeks, garlic and chives,…and on an on and on.  They feel sick of manna and want a change.  They crave meat.

And this sends Moses into his own complaint to God.  He rants:

“Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

 

Moses doesn’t hold back all!  This must be some trust – to be able to just throw his own tantrum on the floor, as it were, before God Almighty.  But God responds with compassion toward Moses and a measure of anger at the behaviors of those disgruntled and ungrateful among the people.

God tells Moses his will to have others among the people to also help carry the burden of the people.  Moses is to select 70 of the elders and officers over the people.  They are to gather with the Moses in the tent of meeting, and God will speak with Moses there, putting some of God’s spirit on the elders.

 

And so this is what Moses does.  He calls and gathers the elders and officers in the tent of meeting.  And when God’s spirit rests on the elders, they begin to prophesy.  This is the only time they prophesy.

But most surprising, two of those selected (but who do not make it to the tent of meeting) …they also began to prophesy…but in the camp, among the people.  And so, a messenger is sent to tell Moses of the goings-on in the camp – how the two are prophesying.  And before Moses could respond, Joshua, Son of Nun, is indignant on Moses’ behalf saying, “Stop them lord Moses!”

But to their surprise, Moses replies,

“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” …

What a blessed desire.

 

Moses does not want to hoard or control the Spirit of God.  If he has any controlling tendencies in his bones, the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion at bearing the weight of responsibility for all the people is flat wearing him out!  He yearns for more to carry the burden with him.  He yearns for others to also hear God, for others to also prophesy, for others to also speak truth, discern solutions, resolve dissent, and lead this wandering people.

And so God’s response of putting the Spirit on the elders is in direct response to Moses’ human desire and limitation.  Moses needs help!!

So when this young man runs to alert Moses to the two elders in the camp, who are prophesying too, Moses is not threatened at all.  He is elated.  He only wishes ALL the people would be filled with the Spirit of God!

 

And how poetic, that this is exactly what God does, as Jesus returns to heaven.  God sends the Spirit out upon all God’s children – children not by blood, natural birth, personal righteousness, or position, but God’s children because the undeserved grace and mercy, love and redemption of Jesus Christ.  We have only to receive this unbounded gift, that we might enter into the joy and freedom and salvation of our God.

God pours out the Spirit on ALL God’s people. 

 

I am struck by this story.  For one, in all my years growing up in church and studying scripture, I’d never before noticed this passage.

  • I love how Moses rants at God.  I relate.
  • Complaining, venting, and ranting are quite often looked down upon in our Christian culture.
  • I am filled with gratitude that God does not shame Moses but helps him.
  • I appreciate seeing how another servant of God reaches his own limitations. I also relate. Moses give us an example of asking for help.
  • And in God’s response we see compassion and understanding. It gives me hope that we too can ask for help…even through our rants.

I love Moses’ response when Joshua wishes to restrain the Spirit, in order to preserve Moses’ status within the community.  Joshua is concerned that this prophesying might endanger Moses’ respected position.  But Moses is not at all concerned with this political move.  He does not play the game.  He does not grasp to control or restrain the Spirit.  He doesn’t discredit the two men who begin prophesying outside of his purview.  Rather, he is concerned that the people hear truth, receive guidance, and walk in God’s ways.  The more true guides, the better.  The more workers for the harvest, the better.  The more who are led by the Spirit of God, the better.

 

Do you know how many generations of Christians have sought to restrain the Spirit of God?  Though we might not call it that, that is exactly what we have done.  We’ve attempted to define and control who is in and who is out, just as the earliest Jewish Christians did when some required that all Gentile believers be circumcised, refrain from eating meat, and observe all the holiness rituals.  It is what Jonah did when he refused to follow the Spirit of God and sailed in the opposite direction, rather than go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.  It is what Peter was tempted to do, when he was called by a Gentile family to come and preach the gospel among them.  It is what the church has done, when it has placed ritual upon doctrine upon confession upon giving – as a requirement for salvation – diminishing the gospel, making it conditional, and in fact, not very good news at all!

Even if you and I, per say, have not participated in these particular efforts to quench and control the movement of the Spirit of God, our own Christian culture, our ancestors who came before, and generation after generation of believer has been tempted in this same way.  And I suspect that when we are truly quieted and listening, we too will discover ways in which we have participated in efforts to limit the expansive love of God, and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  For God is moving through-out the world, to seek out and save the lost.

 

Are we?

Are we listening?
Are we following?
Are we obedient?

 

Are there actions we have taken,
prejudices we’ve carried on,
things we have left undone,
words we have said or left unsaid
– even unbeknownst to us –
for which we need to ask forgiveness?

 

Will we set down our temptations to control?
Will we surrender our ego
and take on humility?

 

Will we take our cues from the movements of God by the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than expecting God to follow our strategic plans and secret desires?

 

“Would that ALL God’s people be prophets and that the Lord would put the Spirit onto them!” Moses imagines.

 

Thanks be to God!

For God has anointed you and anointed me!
God has put the Spirit into child and grandparent,…
Men and women and those non-binary,…
The powerful and the powerless,…
God has poured out God’s Spirit upon ALL flesh!

 

What wonder!  What goodness!  What honor!  What opportunity!

May we take this long-desired, unparalleled gift – this pouring out of the Spirit of God – and may we be about the work of our God:

Grateful to share in this gospel work,
Shining our light into the darkness,
Proclaiming freedom to those oppressed,
Doing justice, and thereby ushering in the Kingdom of our God, and
Announcing the mercy and grace of our God.

Thanks be to God! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Trust and Enjoy”

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

 

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22

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

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

 

Proverbs 3:5-6

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

 

 

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

So, why is this SO HARD!?!

 

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

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

We too want to be God!!

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

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

And this is the root of our sin.

 

 

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

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

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

God doesn’t say where.

God just says go.

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

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

It is a miraculous affair really.

 

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

 

Have you done this in your life?

Abraham trusted God.

 

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

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

Where is that trust reflected in our daily living?

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

Are our actions driven by fear?

Do we feel trapped in situations?

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

 

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

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

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

Have you heard God say that your life meant something?

…that it matters?

…that it’s important?

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

But…

say we believe it.

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

Then what? 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Then what happens?

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

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

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

“Was that reeaaally God’s voice?”

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

“Perhaps you’re deceiving yourself.”

 

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

“Was that really God’s voice?”

“Did I imagine that?”

“What if I’m wrong?”

 

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

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

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

…and he may be right.

So they lie.

 

Was this what God wanted?  Was this necessary?

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

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

We just don’t know!

 

And in our lives,…we just don’t know.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Notice the scripture:

            Trust in the Lord, with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge God,

And God will direct your paths.

 

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

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

 

God wants us to trust

with childlike faith

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

 

God wants us to follow

hand in hand

and trust God to handle everything that comes our way,

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

 

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

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

He had a heart that trust in the Lord.

 

And that is all God asks.

 

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

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

or worried,

or doubting.

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

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

Acknowledge that God is God and we are not,

And trust God to do what only God can.

 

 

God is God, and we are not.

What God asks is that we trust, like a child

Leaning on God, like a child

Acknowledging God, in everything we do…

 

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

 

God is God, and we are not.

 

We are God’s children! 

May we put our hand in God’s

and in-JoY this beauuutiful ride,

the life Christ has given us!

“Holy Spirit Growing Pains”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 16:9-15
John 14:25-29

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.  On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

John 14:25-29

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.


 

This story of the Apostles figuring out how to follow the risen Jesus, by the power of Jesus’ gift to them of the Holy Spirit – this is what fills the pages of the book of Acts.  Clumsily these apostles keep running into the borders and boundaries of God’s call on their lives.

They have been given this ultimate gift – to know the Lamb of God, Jesus – and to receive forgiveness of sins – what a gift!?!  The Spirit has been poured out on them, and they are all in, eager to share the good news with any who will hear, but they keep awkwardly hitting boundaries.  In the bit just before our passage today about Paul dreaming about a man in Macedonia begging him to come, Paul and Timothy try to go many places, but we read that the Holy Spirit limits them.  It says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go to Asia.  And then they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them.

 

I wonder what this looked like.  How did they know it was the Holy Spirit?  We are not told if they both were given hunches or premonitions, we don’t know if they received visions forbidding them to go, or whether or not they deducted the Holy Spirit’s leading by which doors were opened to them and which doors were closed.  But I am very curious, because in our everyday lives, this is what we’re in the business of determining.

It is very easy to read these stories and to make a mental separation between what WAS and what IS.  It isn’t so very difficult to accept that the Holy Spirit led these two early disciples in spreading the Good News – after all, we are all here today because something they did worked!  We know about Jesus because of their good work and those who followed in their footsteps, generation after generation.

It can be another thing to believe that such things happen in our lives today.  So do you believe?  Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and living in the world today, still speaking to our hearts today, still guiding our steps today, still interceding for us with sighs deeper than words today?

I certainly hope so!

 

It gets tricky because how can we be sure?  It isn’t a scientifically proven thing.  It isn’t black and white.  It isn’t something we can fully perceive or even begin to understand.

So in this modern world of facts and fiction, it can be hard to know when and if the Holy Spirit is active and moving.  How do we know?

Well, first off, as scripture says, “For now, we see through a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  In this world, we do not see with clarity and breadth.  We cannot.  And so when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we must approach with eyes of faith.  It is by eyes of faith that we believe and then see.

 

Nicole’s mom Bonnie, Jayne’s sister is a praying person.  When she heard about the needs of a young family in our congregation, she wanted to help.  She offered to buy the baby girl her first pair of shoes and a new dress for her first birthday.  So she spoke with the mother who measured the child’s feet, and Bonnie set out to buy a new pair of shoes.  She went to a shoe store and spoke with the clerk.  She told the clerk about this family and how the child had never before owned a pair of shoes but that she wanted to get the little girl her first pair.  The woman was moved by the Bonnie’s story and said, give me your number, I have several bags of little girl outfits AND shoes.  I want this little girl to have them.  When the clerk dropped off the bag to Bonnie, the clerk explained, ‘The day before I meet you in the store, I was cleaning out all these old clothes from my daughter and preparing to store them.  My daughter, 3 ½ years old, came in and said, “Mommy, there’s a little girl that needs those clothes.  Don’t put them away.” ‘

 

Bonnie was so moved by this.  It was so clear to her that God had spoken through this child.  It was clear to her that God loved this young family.  It was clear to her that the Holy Spirit had directed this mother and was directing her.

And this gift freed Bonnie to put her money toward caring for the rest of the family, the mom and dad.  And even as she shopped for the parents, she prayed and paid attention.  Even the sales seemed so appropriately suited to the family, and Bonnie followed that trail – she followed the Holy Spirit.

 

How do we follow the Holy Spirit?

How do we understand when God says, “Don’t go there,” “Go here,” “Say this…,” “Don’t say that…”

I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still living and moving among us here and now.  I do believe that God is still speaking to us in ways that we uniquely can here.  Even now as I sit and write this sermon for you, I do not have a plan of what to say.  I’m not mapping things out.  No, I am praying and listening and following the trail.  If I am doing this well, it is because I am following the Holy Spirit as I serve in this way.

For the Spirit of God knows the deepest heart.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs deeper than words.  The Holy Spirit can use any means by which to guide and direct us.

And so, I believe the key is to listen, trust, and follow.

 

Will we ever KNOW FOR SURE that we are following the Spirit of God?  Probably not in this lifetime, but when in doubt, I have prayed to God saying, “Lord, I hear you, but is this what you’re really saying?  Please confirm it to me.”  And as I’ve kept my heart open, as I’ve stayed alert, listening, I have heard confirmation, God has given me clarity.

Sometimes this clarity has come over years and decades.  Sometimes it has come in days or even minutes, but our God loves us.  Our God is good.  Our God has given us this precious gift of the Holy Spirit SO THAT we might follow God well – SO THAT we might continue to do the work of Christ, in the power of God.

 

Only God knows what’s going on in our secret hearts.  Only God knows the questions we dare not speak.  Only God knows the feelings we dare not acknowledge.  Only God knows the path that leads us to fullness and quality of life!

 

And so may we take this good gift!

May we, like Paul, bump into the boundaries and borders of this gift – trying out wrong paths and being redirected until we hear and find our way.  Scripture says, ‘…Whether you turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way.  Walk in it.” ‘  We don’t need to know the way head of time.  We just need to set out, to start, and to listen as we go.

May we, like Paul, be alert and listen to the many ways God speaks to us – be it in dreams, or visions, friends, or facebook, strangers, or little children.

GOD STILL SPEAKS.

 

May WE be a people who are open – open to the Spirit of God, living and active, working and moving, calling and inviting, opening and closing doors – that the love of Christ might spread abroad in hearts and minds, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, proclaiming God’s favor.

It is for this, that we are called!

“Following a Spectacular God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

 

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.


 

Do we have what it takes to follow God?

By all logical and reasonable assessments, the answer is no.  We surely do not.

And yet God has a pesky habit of calling people to follow who don’t look like your usual suspects.  Jesus called Peter – a rash, impulsive, unfiltered, uneducated…passionate, risk-taking, bold, courageous man.  God called Paul – a legalistic Jew/Roman citizen who was passionately persecuting Christians.

 

God calls us.

God calls them.

God calls the them that we avoid and do not like…

God calls.

 

And who are we to stand in the way of God!??

 

We hear this story of Peter as Peter’s explanation of to the Jews of Judea who are appalled to have gotten word that this leader in the faith has broken the Jewish rules and eaten with Gentiles.  He has been called to account for his actions.  And so he explains to them why he broke the rules.

He had been praying on the rooftop in Joppa – famished, as he waited for a meal to be prepared – when God sent a vision to him.  It was a large sheet being lowered before him from heaven, with every kind of bird and beast.  And there was a voice saying, “Peter, get up, kill, and eat.”  But he replied, “No Lord, for I’ve never eaten anything profane or unclean,” for the spread of animals before him were those that Jews were forbidden from eating.  But the voice then said, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”  This dialogue occurred three times before the sheet was pulled back to heaven, and immediately 3 men from Caesarea arrived asking for him.  Though these were Gentile men, requesting his presence, the Spirit of God told Peter not to make a distinction between them & the Jews but to instead go with them.

So Peter, trying out his new Holy Spirit capacities, listens and obeys.  He goes with the men.  When he arrives, the head of the house explains that he had seen an angel standing in his house who told him to go to Joppa and get the man called Peter – that Peter had a message for them by which his entire household would be saved.  And so he had sent his men to find Peter and bring him to them.

At this Peter begins to share the good news of the gospel, and even as he began to speak to them, the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentile people – in the same manner in which these Jews had also received the Holy Spirit.  And so Peter reasons that if God is accepting these people into the faith, then who is he to stand in the way of God.

Smart man.

 

Our God is unfathomable to us.  Our God is inconceivable.  Even our best imaginings of God fall dramatically short, for we cannot perceive our God.  Our God expands beyond our best understanding, our best knowledge, our greatest wisdom.  Our God is not contained in our books, in our words, in our hearts, in our communities, in our churches.

Our God is out and about!

Our God is continually surprising.

Our God is continually astounding.

Just when we think we understand, we go deeper and find new caverns and worlds to explore of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s unfailing love, God’s fierce justice, God’s heart for the lost…

 

This is why we need to take care that we follow God – FOLLOW, not lead.

Usually we wouldn’t presume to LEAD GOD, …but we often presume to lead others.

 

And this is a beautiful thing.  Many, if not all, of us are called to lead in some way.  We lead in our jobs.  We lead in our families and homes.  We take leadership among friends.  And we take leadership in church.  This is called showing up and getting our skin in the game.  This is called investing in our communities and our community of faith.

 

But we must ever take care, that in every arena – home, work, church, friends – that we are FIRST followers. 

 

IF God were predictable.  IF God could be fully known and understood.  IF God were somehow contained in scripture or our churches…then perhaps we might could lead without listening to the Spirit.  Perhaps we could KNOW the way to go.  Perhaps.

But indeed God is far greater than we can begin to imagine or perceive or ever rightly anticipate.  THEREFORE, we are only right with God, insofar as we follow.  Follow.

 

We are not called to know all things.

We are not called to understand all things.

We are not called to see the future.

No.

 

We are called to follow the One who does.

We are called to follow the One who knows what is best.

We are called to follow the One who loves us with an unbreaking, never-giving-up love.

We are called to follow the only One who is worthy of our lives.

 

And what a sweet, sweet calling that is!

 

We get to be a part of what God is DOING, here and now!

We get to be part of the Spirit’s healing and saving work in our neighborhoods, in our friendships, in our families, in our homes, in our churches…

 

We are invited to join with the Maker of the Universe in making all things new!

 

And we are only powerful and effective, caring and well-cared-for, peace-making and peaceful, insofar as we are following. 

 

Now God does not guarantee us wealth and prosperity in this world.  God does not guarantee us happiness and success.  The pathways can be fraught with calamities and injustices.  But what we find in God is better than anything we could have bought or pursued, imagined or created for ourselves.

 

And so I ask you – are you getting in the way of God’s Spirit?

Are you fighting God?

 

Are you listening?

And are you following?

 

LIFE, abundant life, is what’s at stake.  That quality of life that makes life worth living is what God is offering us here.  And we open ourselves to this gift by following.

“I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says. 

 

Will we live life abundantly?

Will we follow?