Posts

“Save The Best for Me”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10, 12-13a
John 2:13-22

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10, 12-13a

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me

 

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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Whenever before I’ve heard this story of Jesus running all the vendors and merchants out of the temple, I always thought Jesus was calling them “robbers” – that perhaps they were selling these items and animals for too much money, or something.  And perhaps they were.  Their tables were closest to the temple; thus, the most convenient.

But today I am wondering if Christ wasn’t also referring to the pilgrims who had come from near and far to worship there and offer sacrifices… as also being robbers.

Could it be that Jesus was perceiving the hearts of all who were there? 

 

When we go back to the commands to offer sacrifices, we notice that the command requires a letting go of something prized and precious – livestock without blemishf, the first-born of such livestock, the first fruit of the garden, the flour laboriously prepared from grain, fine wine undiluted, etc.

God commanded folks to offer something they had long-labored over.

And so I wonder, was the whole point being missed if the gift wasn’t a labored-after item or animal but rather money?  With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, one didn’t need to bring their prized animal to the temple.  Rather, they could buy one & offer it up.  With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, they didn’t have to bring the wine they themselves prepared over years because they could easily buy some right outside the temple.  With the vendors conveniently outside the temple, one didn’t have to carry milled flour on the back, depleting your labored-over store, but could simply buy some flour from a merchant just before entering the temple…

You see?

 

Are any of you crafters?  If you are, you know the pride in your creation – be it beautiful or not!

Are any gardeners?  If so, you know how amazing it feels with the months of preparing the soil, watering, weeding, and waiting FINALLY pay off in that miracle of your first fruit or vegetable!

Do any of you sew?  Then you know the pride you feel at completing a pattern – with skill and accuracy!

There is a pride, a joy, a sacrifice in giving something we’ve worked with for long while, something we’ve sustained through thick and thin, something that took an awful lot of us to make.

 

And yet, is money not long labored for?

Sure it is!!!

And yet, is that not different than the feeling you get after spending your Saturday mowing the lawn or a month building something with all the creative engineering you can muster?

Somehow, I think it is different.

 

Money has different value to different folks – depending on how hard they’ve had to work for it – does it not?  And yet, in & of itself, money means nothing.  Few of us would express a connection with money itself, for it is only metal, it is only paper.

 

More to the point,

Why do we refrain from giving our time?
Could it be it feels more precious?

Why do we refrain from giving of the first fruits of our labor?
Might it be we rationalize it safer to give us our leftovers than of our prime stock?

Are there not times when it feels safer and easier to give money, than of our very selves?

 

Jesus enters the bustling scene of folks opting for convenience over true sacrifice.  What was intended to be a laying down of oneself had been re-framed as something that could be bought.

 

But could a right relationship with God be bought? 
Could intimacy with God be bought?

Could holiness or forgiveness be bought?

…Or did the rich man’s nicer gift mean more than the poor man’s?

 

Sacrifice acknowledges that we all have something God has given, and from THAT we give:  we give a portion of what God has given us, back.   True sacrifice isn’t for sale.  It cannot be bought.

 

So, returning to this Biblical story, might Jesus’ protest that the temple had been turned into a den of robbers been referring, not only to the merchants but to the pilgrims and guests?  Amid convenience and utilizing our wily wit, had we started bringing God half the gifts we were due?  Had we substituted authentic sacrifice for a poor substitute?

I believe we had.
And I believe we do.

 

Today we no longer believe God to require animal sacrifices, but we do practice that giving of our first fruits – that tithe, that offering.

 

And so I ask, what is most precious to you? 
Your time and attention?
Your love and devotion?
Laboring over a warm meal?
Meticulously trimming the grass and bushes?
Visiting those distanced?
Sharing your knowledge and expertise?
Offering someone a ride?
Assisting in the process of seeking justice and loving mercy?
Giving of your heart and enthusiasm?
What is it? 

 

And is it easier to give money, than to give of these things?
What represents a laying down of yourself?
What represents your acknowledgement
that everything you have has, in fact, come by God’s hand?

What is something you most highly prize, because it is the best of yourself? 
THAT is what God is asking us to bring. 

 

Scripture refers to the “sacrifice of praise” and the giving over of our bodies as living sacrifice.  For you see, Christ wanted us to get away from trying to fulfill the minimal requirements and to get to the point of offering our whole selves up to God!

The tangible gift was meant to invite us deeper, to call us further, to overflow in grateful praise!

For indeed, all that we might offer God, has come from God in the first place!  It is a gift!

 

And Christ – the Lamb of God, as John loves to call him – is about to give the whole of himself.  Christ will lay his body down.  Christ will lay his power down.  Christ will offer himself wholly to God, and this is our example!

We are not to fulfill the letter of the law, the details of the rule, the minimum expectations or requirements.  But we are to rise above, offering all of ourselves to God, holding nothing back.  Only then do we truly worship God, in spirit and in truth.  Everything else is a pale comparison.

 

And so may we not be found to be such “a den of robbers,”
saving the best of ourselves FOR ourselves alone,
but, in the example of Christ,
may we offer our very selves in full obedience to God
– to be used as God so chooses.

Amen. 

 

“Love One Another Deeply”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 13:31a, 33-35
1 Peter 1:17-23

 

John 13:31a, 33-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.


 

I am struck by the words of 1 Peter.  In the second section, he says that now that the believers are being purified by obedience to the truth and have been given a genuine, mutual, brotherly and sisterly love, they are to love one another deeply, from the heart.

In obeying God, following the Truth, these disciples have been given God’s love for one another.  Given.  Somehow in their obedience and following, God has bestowed on them God’s love for one another.  And this is huge, because how often to we struggle to love.  Is it possible that it is in our obedience to God’s leading, that we will find God’s strength to love?

This seems to be how Peter is laying it out for them.  Their obedience to God has lead to their being filled with God’s love.

And now they have a responsibility.  They are not simply to go along, come what may.  No, they are to actively and intentionally love.  They are to love deeply, fervently, sincerely…from the heart. 

 

Interesting, is it not?  I would have thought, that as far as God is concerned, loving actions would be enough.  After all, it is often our loving actions that precede our sincere feelings of love.  And doesn’t God care more about our actions?

I believe God does care more about our actions – certainly more about our actions than our words, our promises, our acclamations, or ascent.  Actions speak louder.  However, it would seem that God’s love does not stop there.  God’s love goes beyond action and into our hearts.  God’s love, when truly active and manifested, is active.  God’s love is intentional.  God’s love is fervent and deep.  God’s love is wider and more enduring that we can begin to imagine.  So our love does not even come close to the love of God until our actions of obedience and love are met with heart.

 

Our God is not interested in mere money.  God owns all that is.

Our God is not interested in mere puppetry.  We are more to God than vehicles of God’s will.  After all God made us and delights in us.  And God can accomplish whatever God wills – whether or not we ever follow, obey, and join in.

Our God is not interested in pageantry and appearances.  God is interested in the substance behind an action, a gift, a smile, or a sacrifice.  God has no one to fool or impress.

 

Our God came and went all in.  Our God was born into our midst as a helpless child, dependent, hunted, a refugee.

Christ gave of himself, healing the sick, seeking out the lost, feeding the hungry, raising the dead.

And when the time came, Jesus Christ walked that long road to Golgotha, allowing his blood to be spilled, his lungs to collapse, and the life-breath to leave his body.

 

Our God went all in.
And this God calls us to bring our all.

Obedience alone is not complete.  Love makes our actions complete.  Perhaps this is why we are encouraged to speak the truth in love.  Truth alone is incomplete.  Perhaps this is why Paul speaks about faith, hope and love: that faith, hope, and love abide but that the greatest of these is love.  Perhaps this is why Paul waxes about the gifts of the Spirit, making the point that without love, all the gifts are sounding gongs or clanging symbols – mere noise, obnoxious clutter, impediments.

And isn’t this our experience.  It does not matter how much we know; no one cares until they know how much we care.

Skill, talent, resource,
Wisdom, insight, knowledge…
None of it matters unless we employ them with love.  In fact, our failure to love as we serve, is actually an impediment to others, an obstacle, an annoyance.

Love completes our obedience.
Love completes our gifts.
Love completes our knowledge.
Love completes our wisdom.
Love completes our helping.
Love completes our serving…

 

God has called us to love deeply.  The Greek word also means fervently, sincerely, and out of purity of heart.

We are called to a higher standard of living.

God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit, filling us with God’s love.
And God then calls us to love on purpose, love in all sincerity, love one another deeply.

 

It matters…what dwells in the depths of our hearts.
It matters.

 

And so as we seek to know God’s will,
As we seek to be faithful, following God in trust and obedience,
As we live and work,
May we bring it all:  our whole self, our whole life, our whole heart.

 

God is glorified in our gifts and talents.
God is glorified in our obedience and service.
And all these things are made complete,
            As we love one another truly, from the depths of our hearts.   

 

THIS is how everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples.