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“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.”

“Alone, to Pray”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 10:5-13
Matthew 14: 22-33

 

Romans 10:5-13

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Matthew 14:22-33

 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

~~~~~

 

In this story of Jesus and his disciples,
…after their great meal, the feeding of the five thousand,
…after hearing Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod…

Jesus has had one LONG day, has he not?

 

Any one of these things – hearing evil news of murder of one’s own family member, traveling, unexpectedly working and healing all the sick, teaching the crowds, feeding the crowd – any of these would aloe have made for a full day.

And here Jesus is, dismissing the crowd by himself. 

Notice, he has sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the sea for a rest.  But Jesus stays back to “dismiss the crowd.”

 

Jesus is the distraction.
Jesus is the feature.

The people are there to see him, and he takes those sacred moments and hours – to the end – to see them,
to be with them,
to heal them,
to teach them.

 

Now, I’d have recommended precisely the opposite scenario.

Of all his crew, I’d guess that it’s Jesus who has had the most emotionally draining day.  HE is the one most in need of retreat, of sleep, of solitude.  I would have recommended the disciples run interference.  In fact, they could have rallied the crowd beforehand and afterward in my book.  They could have saved Jesus’ time and energy considerably, if all he had to do was appear for a measured few hours in the public eye.

But Jesus has done the opposite.

For HE stays behind to dismiss the crowd.

 

Now, this image plays very well into the southern, Christian, stoic woman script I learned through-out my growing years.

As a southern, Christian, stoic woman, you come first and leave last.  You ask what is needed of you from others and not what you need.  You tend to others and not to yourself.  You press emotions and issues tidily into closets, and keep on going.  This describes my grandma to a tee.  Anything less would be selfish, would it not!?

It has only been in the past couple decades that the toxicity of living this script for so long began to reveal itself to me.  I was dying, more and more, to my truest self.  I was co-dependent:  caring for others while expecting them to care for me.  Frustrated but unallowed to be frustrated, the closet doors to my emotions were becoming harder and harder to close and tuck away.

 

Now my wife, on the other hand, was not raised within this American, southern-woman culture.  And she is good at taking care of herself. 

It used to make me really annoyed.

She didn’t play by my internal script.  SHE cared for herself – so she’d be renewed and have more to give.  SHE exercised regularly – taking time for herself.  SHE met up with friends and shared scrumptious meals.

And all of this grated my nerves.

 

Why?

Because I was downright jealous!  I wanted to exercise regularly.  I wanted to meet up with friends and share scrumptious meals.  I wanted to be cared for and to feel renewed.

 

But I had been fed this lie that self-care was selfish. 

I had been fed this lie that loving myself more meant loving others and God less.

I was living in the lie that this world is scarce – that some for me means less for you – and not in the abundance of Christ – that there is enough for both you and me, and that my wellbeing means I have more to give in relationship.

I had a lot to relearn.  I needed to learn her ways!!

 

And so when I read what Jesus does here – staying back alone to dismiss the crowd – I get anxious.  This is where I start to doubt my own self-care because Jesus’s action appears very self-less.

I bring this up to caution those of us who are tempted – like me – to return to those familiar places of guilt and self-neglect.

What we do see however, is that Jesus has more resources for taking care of himself.  It seems he does not need to leave early to head back home by boat, seeing as he can simply walk across stormy seas on his own two feet, at will.  He is not limited by his humanity – by fears and disbelief – he doesn’t sink like Peter; he is living fully within the power and possibility of God.

This plan of sending the disciples away first also affords Jesus the opportunity to be alone, and that is what he does.  He seeks out a solitary place.  He climbs a mountainside and there, he prays.

Jesus has done what he needs.  Jesus is taking care of himself.  EVEN JESUS, needs time alone, in communion with God.

How much moreso do we?
How much moreso do we need time alone?
How much moreso do we need time alone to pray?

 

As compassionate as Jesus is, he does not work through the night, no.   He dismisses the crowd.  He does this personally.  He does this compassionately.  But he does it.  He sends folks away.  He sends them home.

And then he retreats alone to the one place he is truly at home – with his Heavenly Father, with God.

 

This is Jesus taking care of himself. 

This is Jesus taking time for himself.
This is Jesus drinking from the well of living water.
This is Jesus waiting on God, and rising up on wings, as eagles.
This is Jesus setting his boundary.

Though God the Son, Jesus is still in the flesh; therefore, he still needs rest, he still needs solitude, he still needs deliberate times of communion with God.

 

And following this time of renewal,

…he once again seeks out his disciples in their time of great need,
…and once again he shows them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God
– preaching without words, as he walks across the very sea amidst the storm.

 

Jesus preached all the time and only sometimes with words. 

His actions speak the loudest.

And what comes through to me in this story is both his compassion to dismiss the crowds himself, face to face, and his boundaries at setting aside his evening to rest and prayer and renewal.

Some of us find it quite difficult to BOTH have compassion AND set boundaries.
But Love showed us both.
Jesus showed us both.
God shows us both.

 

When we love others while loving ourselves – setting healthy boundaries to take care of our own needs – we most shine God’s own love; we demonstrate God’s love, just as Jesus did on the evening of that very long day.

 

Let us pray.

God reveal to us when we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; when we think we can and therefore try to do everything,

as if we ourselves were you,
as if we ourselves didn’t also need to retreat – to be alone, to hike and rest and pray.

God, we truly need you.  Help us to know and to acknowledge our own boundaries and limitations.  And may we honor who you’ve made us to be – limitations and all – by caring for ourselves with tender, gracious wisdom
…just as Jesus did on the evening of that LONG day.

 

In our LONG days, draw us into your presence and speak life into our death.
For we absolutely need you.
Everyday,
We need you. 

 

Amen.

“Your Contingency Plan”

By Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 14:5-29
Luke 21:5-6

 

Exodus 14:5-29

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 

Luke 21:5-6

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 


 

 

When I was in Israel, Jesus’ life began to open up to me in new ways.  One of the first places we visited was Ceasarea.  This was where Herod built a bold, nature-defying palace in the waves of the ocean.  Right on the seashore are the ruins of his palace.  It is remarkable, even for today.  It’s ruins are magnificent.  The city has an amphitheater, still standing and used.  It has an old arena.  It makes an impression, and that is what is was made for.

Herod, Israel’s Roman ruler during the days of Jesus, was notorious in many ways, but architecturally he was a wonder.  He communicated Roman strength, longevity, endurance, and ingenuity through bricks and mortar.  He built in places where people had never before built because of extreme and unfriendly natural elements.  He simply overcame them with science.  He built with exquisite and rare stones – imported and distinct from anything the people of Israel had seen.  His buildings were conquests, doing more, accomplishing more, bigger and better than the people ever could have imagined.  His works were impressive.

 

In Jerusalem, the holy mount where the temple was located was expanded by Herod.  Build on a mountain, there was no large, flat location to claim, and so he created one.  And it still stands today.  It is the foundation of holy sites still hotly contested by so many different people of faith.  And in one location, a glass window allows you to peer under the structure to see enormous arches below your feet that support the entire platform.  It is amazing.  The stones themselves were enormous, many the size of a modern-day tractor trailer, hewn from the mountain rock downhill, and rolled uphill and into position.

And this is the wonder of it all, even still.  Jerusalem is on shifting tectonic plates.  The earth there moves.  HOW could anyone build such a mighty structure on it successfully?  Herod overcame that.  He would use sheer gravity to hold the massive foundation stones in place.  They could move with the moving plates.  They would merely shift.  And his mighty arches below the surface of the foundation allowed water to pass through the surface and not weight down it down causing the sides to buckle and fall.

From an architectural standpoint, I stood amazed in Jerusalem.  It was entirely fascinating.  It was truly a wonder.

 

And all this was merely the foundation of the structure Herod was building in Jesus’ childhood.  This was Herod’s conquest and mighty display of power in Israel.  He would build an exquisite and mighty temple in Jerusalem.  To this day it is considered his masterpiece.

 

 

And THIS is the very structure about which Jesus says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Can you imagine the people’s stares?  Can you imagine them trying to work out how Jesus’ words could ever come to pass?  Each stone had been positioned with hundreds and hundreds of slaves all working together with engineering brilliance.  It was masterful.  WHO could destroy such a wondrous temple?

And it was brand new, state of the art, and engineering masterpiece.  It had been under construction for decades.  The people did not have missiles.  They did not have nuclear weapons.  They did not have guns and fire power.  HOW would anyone destroy such a mighty fortress?

And THAT is precisely what Jesus is saying.

 

It sounds absurd.  It sounds reaching.

 

And yet today, indeed not one stone is left upon another of that temple.  The wailing wall is merely the retaining wall of the that foundation Herod built.

Every word came to pass.

Something no one could have conceived of.

 

And it calls us to perk up and listen to Jesus’ words.

 

Jesus knows we are drawn to shiny, new things.  We love new construction.  We love new clothes.  We love new appliances.  We love new buildings.

And in the end, we put a lot of faith in these things.  We try to surround ourselves with shiny new things in order to give us comfort and security, peace of mind.  And here Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of their sense of wonder and security.

In fact, this mighty masterpiece was destroyed in a mere decades by the same ingenuity and powers by which it was created.  Rome besieged Jerusalem in 70 CE and destroyed it.

 

It didn’t even last a century.

 

And so I ask you.  In what do you place your trust?

Do you place your trust in the work of your hands?

Do you place your trust in the ingenuity of your mind?

Do you place your trust in your social finesse?

Do you place it in the money you’ve stored in accounts and stock and investments?

Do you place it in insurance policies and long-term planning?

None of these things are bad.  In fact, most of these things are wise.  They are responsible.  The Bible exhorts us to plan and to work hard.  God calls us to use God’s gifts and multiply them.  When we invest in our knowledge and skills, when we invest our money, when we work hard and make the most of what we are given in this world, we are in fact following God’s instructions for life!

And yet, the difference somehow comes when we start placing our TRUST in these things.

 

Rome wasn’t the first to conquer territories with their ingenuity and might.  Egypt in fact was also mighty, and they owed much of their success to chariots.  They invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses, and thus they were able to take the Mesopotamian invention of the wheel and chariot to a new level in battle.

They put a lot of trust in these chariots, which allowed them to overtake their enemies.  And yet, even these could not save them.  When God parted the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people of Israel to cross by foot on the dry riverbed, the Egyptians who followed them in chariots all got stuck and drowned in the sea as the waters returned.

 

So as we hear Jesus’ words about the temple, may our ears stand alert.  May we rightly assess what we have placed our trust in.

And if it is not in the Lord.  If our trust resides in the gifts of God or the abilities given to us by God, or our endurance and skill as we’ve walked in the grace and mercies of God, may we beware and turn around.  For none of these things can save.  God alone saves.  God alone is enough for every contingency.  God alone is WORTHY of our trust.

 

May we place our TRUST in God.