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“Love Turning the Tables of Sin”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:23-33

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

 

John 12:23-33

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

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“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.”

Hear this intimate moment we have with Jesus, hearing the trouble of his soul.

 

Have you ever felt troubled of soul?
Have you ever cried out to God – “Save me!”

 

Jesus is troubled but will not cry out for God to save him – as he recognizes his purpose is bound up in this moment.
He recognizes that in this moment, something larger is at play.  And he knows that – in the end – God will use his death to “draw all people” to himself.

And so he remains
present in that miserable moment.
He remains
present
even as the waters of his soul are troubled.

 

How many of us are present to our pain? 

I know we all have deepest pains in our lives, and yet we are taught to sweep it under the rug,
to press through it,
to keep going,
to dry our tears and suck it up…

And Jesus not only expresses the distress of his soul, but cries most earnest tears in that garden, before he is arrested.

Jesus sits with his pain.
Jesus doesn’t turn on Netflix or start scrolling Facebook.
He doesn’t party harder, drink in excess, or just stay busy.
No.
He quiets himself.
He sits with his troubled heart.

 

And then he is able to press through it.

 

You see in sitting with it, he is facing reality head-on, un-medicated.

In sitting with his pain of spirit, he is pressing in, rather than leaning out.

Jesus is facing the awful truth that great fear and acts of evil will seek to end him.
He is facing a most painful transition.
He is facing the loss of this human life, alongside his friends.

He – who has touched so many in healing – will be the object of a people’s effort to silence him and to control the message…
He – who healed the sick and set the prisoner free – will be imprisoned, tortured, and barbarically killed…on full display.

I cannot imagine how Jesus felt, in the months and weeks and days leading up to his crucifixion.  Jesus knows what is coming, and proceeds anyway, step after troubling step. 

 

And he sees that his followers would face much the same opposition and suffering.
And he encourages them saying – you will do even greater things!

Note – Jesus does not say they will have it easy because he has it hard.
He doesn’t guarantee smooth passage, in fact he pretty much guarantees rough passage. 

He does not imply that they will know ease and comfort in this life.
Rather he compares his followers to seeds – that must fall to the ground and die – in order to yield and multiply their fruit. 

 

Like himself, Jesus’ followers would die in faithfulness to the Truth,
in love for God and God’s people
and like Jesus, they would not die at God’s own tender hands,
but at the merciless hands of people who do not know God, who do not see God, and who do not care.

And for anyone awake,
Alert,
Alive,
This is an emotional journey.

But in death, as in life,
Jesus models for us a way to handle such grief, pain, and affliction:
by being present to them
,
being present to that grief, pain, and affliction.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t take himself off the cross early or heal himself, as he most certainly could have done.
Jesus doesn’t command a storm to erase his enemies and free him from that most terrible crucifixion.
He is present. 
He bears it.  He endures.
He speaks peace.  He speaks truth.
He prays.  He keeps on caring…to the end.
And not without cries of pain, complaints and questioning of God,
not without his plea that there might be another way. 

And I suspect that if we are ever to live lives a fraction as faithful as our Lord Christ, we too need learn this deepest form of presence. 

 

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, a professor, a writer, and a theologian.  He wrote many beloved classics – some of which were recently donated by colleague Helen Laundry.  In his life, he aimed to speak faith into the most personal and universal matters of daily living.  And he writes this entitled, “Befriend Your Pain”

“I want to say to you that most of our brokenness cannot be simply taken away.  It’s there.  And the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often the pain that stays with us all our lives.  It cannot be simply solved, fixed, done away with…  What are we then told to do with that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart?  We are called to embrace it, to befriend it.  To not just push it away…to walk right over it, to ignore it.
No, to embrace it, to befriend it, and say, “That is my pain and I claim my pain as the way God is willing to show me his love.”

 

This is a different way of responding to pain than most of us run to.
Most often we numb it,
run from it,
deny it,
bury it.

But to befriend it,
To recognize our pain as yet another way that we shall know God’s great love,
THAT is courageous.
THAT is hopeful.
THAT is redemptive.
And THAT is what we see in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus walks through his valley of the shadow,
his dark night of the soul,
even while seeing it coming
because he KNOWS that the sacrifice of his life – sacrificed by human hands who did not know and did not love him – will nevertheless yield a great harvest of righteousness.  Through this most gruesome and tragic murder, Christ would indeed draw ALL people to himself – writing the law of God on hearts, instead of stones, in order that EVERYONE might know God.

Halleluia!

In this hell-of-our-own-making, in this senseless murder of a young man of color, in this our effort to prevent the ending of an era of fear-based works-righteousness – with all the power, privilege, and wealth it afforded a few – Christ nonetheless turned all this, our sin, on its head!

Even as we murdered Love,
Love was saving us. 

For our salvation, Christ endured such abuse none should bear.

 

So, as we walk this lonesome valley
– often alone in times of greatest trial, as was Christ –
may we recognize that WE ARE NOT ALONE
FOR CHRIST WALKS IT WITH US.
…For Christ is alive today, in our hearts!

We – who have died to this world and come alive to Christ –
Are under the jurisdiction of Christ.
Our lives are not determined by the evils that swirl around us or the sins that cling so closely.
Our lives are infused with the power of Christ living within us. 

 

So in our living and our dying
and in our resurrection from the dead,
may we too quiet ourselves,
and be present
– amid both joys and pain.

And by pressing in – whate’r our days may bring –
may we too
persevere
to the end,
by the power and presence of Christ,
living in us.

And in-so-doing,
may Christ flip every sin, every evil perpetrated against us, every failure to love and use them to build up the Kingdom
so that
many more might know – in the depths of their being –
just how steadfast and enduring,
long-suffering and relentless
is God’s love for them.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Come, O Prince of Peace”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 2:1-20

 

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


 

 

We tell this story of Jesus’ birth because it matters.

 

More than just a sweet story…

More than a fairy tale – with snow and animals and wise men…

More than a tradition – with carols and Christmas trees and gift giving…

 

It is more.  It is far more.

 

But if we focus too much on the fairy tale, on the traditions, on the sweetness, we just might miss the real deal.  All those things are fine, but only if they are held secondarily to the main thing.  And the main thing is Christ – come to live within our hearts.

Now, I don’t know about you, but raised in Christian culture, I have heard about Christ living our hearts for all my life.  It is something I know in my mind.  And because I know it in my mind – because it has become something I think I understand – I have verged on missing the point entirely myself at times.

For God didn’t come to claim an earthly Kingdom,

God didn’t come to stake out territory and force obedience,

…God didn’t come in all the ways we expected God to come.

 

With all the scripture about righteousness and judgement and justice, they thought God would come and shake up our human systems – making things just and right, placing power in the hands of the righteous.  And we too, have wanted God to enter into our human systems & revolutionize them – wiping away systemic injustice and evil.

After all, we believe God can’t stand evil.  God will not stand for evil and all that kills and destroys.  So doesn’t mean God will take down those who have power unjustly?  Doesn’t it mean that God will lift up those who are oppressed unjustly?  Doesn’t it mean that God will make things right in this world?

Well yes, but not in the ways we think.

For instead of running for political power, instead of joining the movement to overthrow Rome’s governance of Israel, instead of forming a coup to overthrow the powers that be, Jesus did all the wrong things.

Jesus didn’t woo the powerful.  Jesus didn’t meet with all the right people.  Jesus didn’t advance through the ranks of the religious elite.

 

Rather Jesus met with all the wrong people – the sinners and the broken, the diseased and outcast, the estranged and the powerless.  To the frustration of his followers, Jesus wouldn’t catalyze his popularity, to advance his own interests.  To the frustration of his followers, Jesus managed to tick off all the people he would need to please in order to advance.

And he didn’t just tick them off, they felt threatened by him, so much so, that they would vow to take him down.

 

Jesus doesn’t do any of the things we expect.  But what Jesus does isn’t surface.

 

Jesus didn’t come to change the law, or the rules, or the systems.

All those things matter, but Jesus was in the business of the root causes of all our turmoil and distress.

 

Jesus came to heal hearts.

Jesus came to heal the human heart.

 

The root of all our fighting and hurt,

The root of our broken relationships and communities,

The root of our sorrow and isolation,

Come from the state of our hearts.  For it is from the human heart that all kinds of vile and evil come.  So Jesus came fishing for hearts.

 

Our Prince of Peace knows that the only lasting peace is created from the inside out, one heart at a time.

 

So Jesus didn’t come as a ruler.

Jesus came as a baby.

 

If you look around and wonder – “where is this Prince of Peace?”  I am glad you are asking the question.  Christ is still living and active – working through you and I, but if we’re not allowing God into the innermost sanctums of our hearts, day by day, there’s a good chance we’re not spreading peace but rather our own turmoil.

God has come!  Christ is here!

Our responsibility is to welcome God into our hearts, day after day, that indeed the peace that passed understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  And God’s peace will spread from heart to heart, through-out the whole earth.

 

It begins with you and with me.

 

 

“Thy Kingdom Come…In Us”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 8
Isaiah 35:1-10

 

1 Samuel 8

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

 

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


 

What is the point of all these Isaiah prophesies – telling of the coming of justice and God’s reign?  We are instructed that with Christ, comes God’s reign, and yet for the last 2000+ years, we’ve had knowledge of Jesus Christ, and yet wars still rage, injustice still reigns, and all things have not yet been made right.

What are we to make of this?

 

Is all this just a nice dream, a fairy-tale, make-believe?

Is it what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the presence of evils and powers we feel powerless to change?

 

I wonder.

 

 

And I feel bad for asking these questions.  After all, I’ve not known more love and truth, hope and goodness than what I’ve found in Jesus Christ.

But what do I make of these prophesies and the disparity we see between the vision of God’s Kingdom and the realities of our broken world?

 

In the Old Testament, we read a lot about kingdoms.  Israel as a nation was supposed to be led by God and not by any human, that is why God raised up for them judges and prophets instead of kings.  They were to communicate God’s will to the people.  But in the end the people wanted a human king.  Like every child who wanted the same things as his peers, the nation of Israel wanted a king.  They wanted to be like all the other nations around them.

To this request, God warned them that if they got what they wanted, they would regret it.  Kings would cause suffering – asking of them the fruit of their labors and the lives of their children.  But the people did not heed God’s words through the prophet, and so God gave them over to their misguided desires.  God gave them a king.

 

And indeed the people knew suffering.  Their first king, King Saul, led them in God’s way for awhile, but he strayed from the Lord and began to disobey God’s leading, so much so that he was tormented by an evil spirit and God’s Spirit left him.

Their next king, King David, is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, but he certainly made his share of mistakes – taking life unjustly and abusing his power for his own personal gain.

And then after David, we have King Solomon – known as the wise king who rebuilds the temple.  But alas, he has many wives and is quite indulgent.  But following these three kings, the list goes downhill sharply.

 

Thus, Israel came to intimately know the downside of spurning God’s leadership and trading down for a human leader.  But experiencing all this suffering unfortunately does not insure that any of us learn our lessons.  And the nation kept wanting a new a better king.

This is something of the environment into which Jesus is born.  And Jesus starts using the phrase “Kingdom of God.”  Does it remind you of anything?  If the people’s memories had been preserved strongly, with the passing on of the knowledge of God and their history as part of God’s story, then this phrase, “The Kingdom of God” should take them back to the times of the judges and the prophets, the time when God sought to lead them more directly, without a personal ego in the way.

 

“The Kingdom of God” could also take them back to that original story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Because it was then that God walked and talked with the people directly.  Indeed THIS is what God intends for each of us.  But in our sinfulness, we have traded that possibility for the chance and power and knowledge and control.  We have sought not to be led but to lead.  We have sought not the One who knows but rather to know ourselves.

We wanted to BE God, rather than to be with God.

As a human species we have always wanted to be in full control, from our very beginnings – as though any of us possess the wisdom and power to do that, much less effectively.

 

And when God called Israel into covenant relationship with God – to be God’s people, a city on a hill – God provided leaders, judges, and prophets.  But again the people wanted more.  It seemed to weak perhaps.  They wanted a figure-head, and human display of power and might.  And so they got what they wanted.  And they traded down God’s good gift of intimate leadership for a human leader, a human king.

 

So here we have Jesus, claiming to have brought the Kingdom of God to earth.

For the first time in our history, since our fall in the garden, God will reign.  God’s will has come to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And everywhere, hearts that receive Christ, receive God’s reign in their hearts – where God will live and guide them, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

And so, God’s Kingdom has come.  But not in the human sense.  Jesus didn’t make himself their human mascot king.  Jesus had bigger fish to fry.  Jesus didn’t want to govern our actions but to be Lord of our hearts – that we might will to do what is pleasing to God.

And Jesus came to bring that Good News that God wasn’t looking for perfect people but for followers.  WHO would let Jesus into their hearts?  Who would allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives and sensibilities?  WHO would be so transformed in God’s unwithheld love that they’d never be the same?  WHO would be among those who finally realized that life isn’t life at all, unless it is the life that God freely gives?

 

And so our Messiah has come.  Our King has come.  Our Rescuer, Deliverer, Savior has come!  But not in the human sense, not in our human political machines, not into our systems of laws and societal order.

 

God has come into hearts, far and wide. 

 

And if God reigns in us,…

If God truly lives in us,…

Where God is still truly received,…

Where God’s WORD is still welcomed and followed,…

THERE is the Kingdom of God.

THERE is power and authority like none other.

 

THERE we find justice flowing down.

THERE we hear truth rightly spoken

THERE the sick are made well.

THERE the lame are healed, the deaf hear, and the blind see.

THERE the burning, thirsty ground becomes a pool of refreshing.

THERE we hear singing, with everlasting joy and gladness.

THERE no one steals or kills or destroys.

 

THIS is the power of God.  THIS is the Kingdom of God.

WE are the body of Church.  WE are the body of Christ.

 

Will we rise up and be people of God?

The family of God?

The messengers of God?

 

Will we bring Good News?

Will we set the captive free?

Do we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?

 

 

In all things and at all times, we have a choice to make: 

To follow Christ our Lord and King

Or to follow in our own way. 

 

May we,

Both individually and collectively,

Choose to bear the Kingdom of God into this weary and burnt-out world,

Day after day

After day.

 

The world is dying for the LIFE that lives in you.