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“Into the Potter’s Hands”

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

 

Acts 19:1-710

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

 

Mark 1:4-11

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

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

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

 

John the Baptist,

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Listen for God’s words to you:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

“Portrait of Wisdom”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 1:1-18
Matthew 2:1-12

 

John 1:(1-9) 10-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

 

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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

 

The wise men

 

Why do we call them wise men?
What do they do? 

Well, they pay attention outside of their own culture and national heritage.
They have kept alert.

They have recognized that we are not only tribes, but one human family.
What happens to the Jews, matters to them.
For we are all connected.
We all impact and are related to one another.

Native American heritage teaches that all creation is one family.  All are connected.  All are related – animals and plants.  What happens to one, happens to us all.  We are all family.

Family

 

The way the wise men have responded, it would seem they too understand something of this truth of our fundamental connection.
And as Christians, we too believe in our connectedness – because God in Christ created ALL.  We are all made by the hands of God!

 

Wise ones know this.
Wisdom points to our connectedness, our oneness, our relationship with all.
These men are wise because they pay broad attention to what God is doing, far and wide, beyond human lines, borders, boundaries.

 

Do we?
Do we recognize our familial ties with all people?
Do we pay attention?
Do we keep alert – even beyond our homes?

…Beyond our neighborhoods?
Beyond our church?
Beyond our religion?
Beyond our beliefs?
Beyond our city?
Beyond our own nation?

Do we recognize the universality of truth – meaning Truth is truth is truth?
Do we recognize that insofar as something is true, it is of God, for our God is the Truth?

Therefore, can we listen and learn from wise men and women and persons
of all colors and creeds and places
…knowing that any truth they impart is a glimpse of the TRUTH:
God’s own revelation to them?

 

Do we believe that God seeks out and saves the lost?
Do we believe that God’s heart is for ALL people?
…and not just OUR people?
Because if we do, then we know God is working and moving in all the world!
And we can humble ourselves, as the wise men did, to listen for God’s Truth among teachers and prophets and guides, beyond our own traditions.

 

But why do we call them wise men? 

Well, they stopped and asked for help.

Unlike myself – who often must get rather lost before recognizing my need for help –
These wise ones stop to ask help from Herod, from the locals, from the Jews themselves.  They do not let national or professional pride, or autonomy, ambition, or arrogance hold them back from receiving aid.

Do we? 

Do we humble ourselves to ask for help from others
…others who do not look like us, think like us, eat like us, dance like us, live like us?

 

But why do we call them wise men? 

Well, they do not let up from their pursuit.

Despite receiving no help from King Herod and rather becoming his teacher of Jewish prophesy,
They do not give up.
They stay steady on.

They have followed the star since its rising.
It has been a LONG time.
They did not arrive at Jesus’ birth, as the shepherds did.
It says they entered the “house” where Jesus lay.
House –
Not stable
Not barn –
House.

They come later.
They have been journeying long and far.
They have remained steadfast and determined.
Until they find what they are searching for!
Do we stay steady, despite the disappointments and set-backs?
Do we stay steady-on, no matter how long it takes us to reach the goal?

 

Do we seek and find?

For scripture directs us, “Seek and you will find, if you seek with all your heart.”
“…You will find”
-Not “You may find” but “You will find”-
A promise! 

How many of us truly seek? 

How many of us leave the familiar?
How many of us bear discomfort?
How many of us humble ourselves to seek something beyond ourselves and our worldly pursuits?

Seek, and you WILL find!
…Wise Ones

In seeking they have found the light of the world,
The Way
The Truth
The Light
Bread of Heaven
The true Vine
The King of the Jews…

 

But why do we call them wise? 

 Because in finding Christ, they worship. 

They fall down on their knees!
They humble themselves!
They subject themselves to this tiny King.
And they bring their gifts,
Extravagant gifts,
For the baby King.

They cannot gain from this.
Any human child could not remember this moment, remember their faces,
Granting them favors when he assumes the throne…
No.

They have paid attention.
They have looked beyond themselves and their culture.
They have sought long.
They have asked for help.
And they have found!

And when they find, they worship!
They give!
They give of their fine treasures,
Without expectation of return.

 

And do we? 

Do we fall down in worship?
Do we humble ourselves before the One who knows far better than ourselves?
Do we surrender to the Mystery of Christ,
Subjecting ourselves to God’s will?

Do we bring our most exquisite treasures?  The most valuable gifts we can bring…
Knowing we cannot thus, gain favors or privilege,
But only the joy of sharing in the life and light of
The One most HOLY, the One most WORTHY, the One most TRUE? 

 

Friends, in this one story of scripture, only occurring in one book of the Bible, in only a partial chapter, we are given a portrait of true wisdom.

These ones come from the outside
Outside Jewish religion,
Outside Jewish land and nation,
They are most certainly uncircumcised.
They most certainly eat “unclean foods.”

Most insiders would have thought them forsaken, outside the realm of God’s love and grace.

But in this most sacred moment,
outsiders
pay attention and recognize,
seek and find,
worship and give thanks,
bringing time and treasure to God.

 

Wow!!!!!

 

May WE
too
be wise.

 

 

 

 

FOR PRAYER & MEDITATION

-Dom Helder – Camara, Brazil

“From the mingled light and shadow of hope

I greet you, Lord, God”

 

-Chippewa Song

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself

while I am carried by the wind

across the sky.”

“To Be Channels of God’s Goodness”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23

 

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23

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

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

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


 

Reading this passage from Acts about the apostles and early believers sharing everything they have in common, I am struck anew at how very, very counter-cultural this act is.  One could even say it is subversive.

We buy and sell.  We own and transfer ownership.  We own land.  We build and own property.  And back in Jesus’ day, even women, many servants, enslaved persons, and children were all considered property.  As capitalistic as we are today, there was an even bigger spectrum in Jesus’ day of what and who people thought could be bought and sold, owned, possessed.

Frankly the idea of a person owning another person causes a visceral response in my body.  I find it so very offensive.  Nonetheless, the culture and world to which Jesus came and gave his life saw ownership as a sign of wealth and power, much as we do today.

So when the disciples ask new believers to share everything freely with one another, to sell their possession and give to the poor, to hold nothing back – it is most certainly subversive.  It is a hard ask.  Can you imagine asking that of another person?

 

I cannot.

I truly delight in ownership.  I love owning a car.  I adore owning real estate.  I love the items that I’ve purchased or found and now call my own.  I love the memories.  I love the resourcefulness.  I love being prepared.

And yet the disciples learned a very different way of living from Jesus.  They travelled from place to place, without ownership, without provision, without knowing where their next shelter or meal would come from.  Sometimes they picked wheat and produce from the fields through which they wandered.  And sometimes Jesus asked them to feed people, when they themselves did not have anything on them to offer another.

But Jesus had shown them the power of this way of life.  They’d been challenged to wholly lean on God for their well-being.  When they split up to go and witness to the Kingdom of God in neighboring towns, Jesus had instructed them to go empty-handed.  They were to take nothing but the tunic on their backs.  And they were to rely, wholly, on the generosity of those they met.  Can you imagine?

 

Some in our culture know this way of life.

There are a few who also know not where their next meal will come from or where they will find shelter and rest.  There are some who travel without provision, wholly reliant on those around them to survive.  Many hustle in their own way – trying to sell goods or services to make a buck.  And others beg on street corners, traffic islands, and even grocery store parking lots.

We tend to look unfavorably on these folks.

They are not being responsible, we say.  They are mooching off the rest of us.  We are paying for their laziness, we feel.

We don’t know what to do when we see them.  Are they truly in need?  Are they a victim?  Are they victimizing me?  What will they use my gift for?  Will they use it for life-crushing substances?  Will they use it for food?  Will they use it wisely?

Our questions are left unanswered, as we each try to make up our own minds.  And this discomfort weighs on us, especially as we pass by those we choose not to help.  Are we doing the right thing??

 

And though these wanderers and sojourners differ in some ways from Jesus’ disciples, they also have enough similarity, that it behooves us to pay attention.

 

In America we have some exposure as well to a culture that did not believe in land ownership:  the Native Americans.  The earth and all its fullness is seen as a gift – not to be grasped, but to be received with gratitude and respect.  The earth and all its fullness is not for us to use and squander however we choose.  Rather, we are given its keeping for a little while, and it is our great and holy responsibility to keep it thriving for our children and our children’s children.

Frankly, this view of creation sounds far more in keeping with Christ’s manner of living than our own.  And sometimes, the manner of living of the homeless and wanderers among us, seems much more in keeping with Jesus’ manner of living.  Jesus was, after all, homeless.  He did not have money.  He was not beholden to the systems and powers that be.  He was not part of the economic engine, the machine.  So in this way, he was uniquely free, a freedom many of our homeless brothers and sisters have also known.

 

So where does this leave us?

I’d like to think that our society is just what Jesus would have designed, but I cannot imagine that is true.  I appreciate capitalism.  I love home and land ownership, but this is not what we see in Jesus’ own life, and as uncomfortable as it makes me, I believe you and I are responsible to God for how we life, be it for good or for ill.

So whether we own or use land, whether we own or use resources, whether we buy or borrow goods and services, we are responsible.  And our actions reflect, in some way, our levels of trust, in the good shepherd, with whom “I shall not want.”

 

We give lip service in the church to trusting God.  We give lip service to trusting God with our money, our goods, our lives.  But when it comes down to it, our actions most accurately reflect our trust. 

Do our gifts of money, answer God’s call on our finances?  Have we taken the time to be still and listen for God’s still, small voice speaking over what we possess?  Do we even dare open up ourselves to such a vulnerable position of listening??

How much treasure do we store up for ourselves?  When do we have enough?
How much toilet paper do we store up?  When do we “have enough?”
Isn’t it all relative?
Isn’t it all so easy to rationalize?

 

I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this.  I dare not venture to prescribe how much you should own or give.  And I think God’s answers and invitations to each of us differ widely. 

 

And so, I invite you, to be still before our God, and to listen. 

 

What does God bring to mind?
Who does God bring to mind?
Is there someone in need nearby, whom you can help?
Do you have resources you’ve outgrown that would tremendously bless someone else?

This process is for you and you alone.   Each person, each family, each couple is responsible for how life is lived, what resources are used, what is shared, and whether or not we obeyed God’s private instruction in our lives.

 

The early believers shared all they had in common.  They sold what they had and gave it to the poor.  They shared, wherever there was need.

THIS my friends, is the Kindom of God.
THIS is the radical way of living Christ calls us to.

We are to place our trust in Christ alone, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

And I am moved to read this now, because so many of us have been acting more like this of late.  Food Lion issued 1,500 $20 gift cards for school children in impoverished neighborhoods in this community.  Jo-ann’s has been giving out mask-making supplies free to anyone who will make them.  Reservoir Distillery here in Richmond is giving away hand sanitizer every weekday – turning their tasting room into a distribution center.  Celebrities are paying rents for entire low-income neighborhoods.  One is even paying for virtual therapy.  Another has started his own boot-leg broadcast called, “SGN” – Some Good News, and he’s using it to spread stories of hope and courage to lift of the community.

You have made masks upon masks for one another.  You have labored long over financial records and payroll sheets – to find and solicit ways to continue employing those workers who have served in our midst for so very long.  You’ve written cards and letters to one another, especially our home-bound members and friends.  Money for projects and paychecks has been provided, mysteriously, anonymously.  You have rallied to put up and fill a new Little Pantry on our church grounds, to supply the community in this needful time.  When various ones among us have been in a bind, you have responded with help, in time.  When folks call our office asking help to pay a bill, you fund an account that pays portions of these bills.  When folks among us need a ride to appointments, you have shown up.

 

Just as the Israelites long ago were not blessed for themselves alone, WE are not blessed for ourselves alone.  We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world – to be CHANNELS of God’s goodness – of grace and love, abundance and provision, comfort and care.  We are called to shepherd one another, as our God has shepherded us – to love and comfort one another as our God has loved and comforted us.

We are blessed in order to BE a BLESSING. 

 

So as we prepare to leave this gathering,
I invite you,
to covenant
– with yourself and with God –
to set aside a holy moment,
this day,
to listen to your God.

Generous and merciful God,
how are you calling us to be faithful,
here and now,
in this time.
Speak, in ways we can hear.

And by your grace, may we most surely be, your faithful disciples.