Posts

“Others…in God’s Eyes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Romans 1:18-22, 1:32-2:11

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 

Romans 1:18-22, 32 and 2:1-11

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…

32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

 

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.


 

Can you believe the story from Exodus!?

If you hadn’t heard this story before, there are so many things wrong that are so wrong with this picture.

 

In a classic political move, the new Pharaoh does not have a relationship or connection with Joseph and his family.  So all he sees are TOO MANY of THEM.  He worries.  His rationale is this:  “The more there are of them, the riskier it is for us.”

Does this sound familiar?  Does this bring to mind today’s political strategizing, and political back-room talk?  Does it bring to mind profiling and even voter-suppression?  OTHERS are viewed with suspicion.  Scarcity is one’s view of the world:  more for you means less for me.

 

This is an age-old fear, age-old strategy….yet still so very much alive even today.

I find it alarming that this age-old fear still lives and breathes in us today.  After all, didn’t Joseph show the people way back when that we are stronger together?  Didn’t an Israelite boy, formerly enslaved, formerly imprisoned, save the entire nation of Egypt and beyond?!

And instead of being viewed as the asset that the Israelite people were to Egypt, they were viewed as other, as foreign, as untrustworthy, as a liability.

Does this sound familiar?

 

But this isn’t where it stops.  Of course the new Pharaoh has a plan.  And it’s not even veiled:  kill every Israeli baby boy, as soon as he is born.  Outright genocide, or infanticide more accurately.

It is out of this horrific time in Israel’s history that the baby boy Moses is born.  He is hidden for as long as he can be, and when it becomes no longer possible, he is abandoned – with great care – in the reeds along the edge of the river Nile.  His mother seals a basket with tar, places her baby boy in it, and sends his older sister to watch out for him, to see what would become of him.

Can you imagine this?  The heartbreak of a mother – where child abandonment is the most loving possibility?

I never want to experience such a heart-wrenching choice as hers.

 

But Moses’ life is spared by the compassion of the Pharaoh’s daughter, the daughter of the very Pharaoh ordering infanticide.  She is moved in compassion and decides to save this Israelite infant’s life, raising him as her own.

 

Israel truly has had a dramatic history:  so much strength, so much color, so much pain.  Can we take a moment here to acknowledge the depth of pain in their stories?

 

And in this one story, we have OTHERING, Xenophobia, Political Back-Rooming, and Infanticide.  It’s a play for power; garnering fear in order to remove one’s perceived threats from the playing field.  This is a move as old as time.

And it’s as fresh and relevant as tomatoes grown on our summer vines.  This same strategy is still employed by all our current, major political players.  Is it not?  And though our methods for the removal of others is not always so overt, that goal still in play.

 

America has a long history of OTHERING.  Those original residents of our beloved country were OTHERED and demonized – “savage, barbarians, uneducated, crazy…”  Their demise was rationalized – “we must save them from themselves, we must Christianize them, we must civilize them, we must save their children from their savage and barbaric culture.”  As humans we are so very good at convincing ourselves of the righteousness of whatever-it-is we want to do.

And so children were forcibly stolen from parents and communities.  And the people were outright, systematically butchered.  And then when the bloodshed ceased, America decided to isolate the rest of them, lumping them all in their infinite tribes, into a few tracks of land – without citizenship, without rights, without resource, without representation.  …to this day.

To this day.   

 

The earliest immigrants to America brought unpaid, enslaved workers.  And these persons were the human-power behind the building of this nation.  In our earliest hours of freedom from England and becoming a nation, these words were written and adopted:  “We believe that all men are created equal.”  And even as Thomas Jefferson penned those inspiring words, he worried that slavery – at the heart of the southern states’ success – would destroy the federal union, this new nation he had helped birth.   He intimately knew the contradiction.  His compelling words, those adopted as the heart of this nation, were not being fully lived.  It would become a crisis of national identity and integrity.

Once enslaved Americans were finally set free, local laws were passed to limit the involvement of former enslaved persons in the work of government.  They came to be known as “Jim Crow Laws.”  And these laws stayed on the books for 95 years.  During that time, persons of color were lynched en-mass and disenfranchised, with no accountability or justice.

Once Lynching and Jim Crow laws were finally outed, a new strategy emerged:  literacy.  No one could vote unless they passed a literacy test.  And in the Black community, even professors were being dismissed and disenfranchised as illiterate.  Just like the Pharaoh of Moses’ day, keeping people down was seen as critical to the holding-on of power.  The same goals, taking on ever-new strategies.

And once this new literate-only voting strategy got outed, the criminalization and over-imprisonment of an entire demographic population gained traction in its place.   And if one has been imprisoned, one’s voting rights are then revoked…

 

Do you see a pattern?

 

The holding-on of power has led leaders through-out time to grave evils. 

Scripture has documented this Pharaoh’s great evil.  It has documented grave evils of the Israelite people, of neighboring people,… and the list goes on and on.  The Bible exposes truth.

 

In our passage from Romans, Paul goes on to list all those perceived as evil or bad in chapter one.  Then immediately in chapter two, right when the whole crowd is saying, “Yes, THOSE people are bad,” he changes course and says, “YOU are no different.” 

YOU are no different.

 

Paul holds everyone to account for their sins – for NONE are without sin.

Paul knows how to meet the people where they are.  He knows all the ones folks despise and reject, he knows who the people judge and ostracize.  And he meets them there.  Paul speaks about all THESE PEOPLE, but he does so, only to then shine the light of accountability on the very people doing the judging.

 

After Rachel & Jacob’s son-switch – tricking Esau out of his birthright…
After Naaman’s wife-switch on Jacob – tricking him out of his promised marriage to Rachel.
This letter by Paul to the people of Romans is perhaps the next biggest switch in scripture!

 

Paul – ever the visionary pastor – walks the people into an honest look at their own indictment:  in judging others – they themselves are rightfully judged, since “you yourselves do the very same things,” Paul says.

 

LET US NOT repeat the mistakes of the past.

LET US NO LONGER other those different than ourselves.

MAY WE see other people as the assets that they truly are.

MAY WE choose to believe in God’s abundance, over the lie of scarcity.

AND MAY WE head Paul’s warning – owning our own sins and those societal not-yet-righted sins, and recognizing that we are no different than those we so often and so readily judge.

 

God has given us good guides, good leaders, good teachers.
May we heed their warnings.

MAY WE finally learn from those who have come before,
and regard others as God regards us –

as family. 

 

Thanks be to God!

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

 

 

PRAYERS

Iona Abby Worship Book

God of history, you share our joys and crushing sorrows, you hear the cries of the afflicted, you fill the hungry, and you set free the oppressed.  We pray for the end to all injustice.  Inspire us with the all-embracing love of God, challenge us with the sacrificial love of Jesus, empower us with the transforming love of the Spirit, that we and all God’s children may live and be free!

 

Spirit of integrity, you drive us into the desert to search out our truth.  Give us clarity to know what is right, that we may abandon the false innocence of failing to choose at all, but may follow the purposes of Jesus Christ.

 

Spirit of truth and judgement, who alone can cast out the powers that grip our world at the point of crisis, give us your discernment, that we may accurately name what is evil, and know that way that leads to peace.

 

Iona Abby Worship Book

Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives, as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice.  As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water, flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other.  As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us, renew us now in newness of life and unity of love.  As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb, hold us in the power and peace of your abiding presence.

 

The Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland

O God, since there is no distinction of race and origin, in you we are all one.  Empower us to break down the barriers that still divide us, so that we may work in harmony with each other and with you.

            Iona Abby Worship Book – adapted & expanded

God, write your message on our hearts,

bless and direct us,

then send us out, living letters of the Word,

for we are yours.  Amen.

 

“Pleasures Forevermore”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:19-31
Psalm 16

 

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


 

This Psalm is rich.

The Psalmist confesses that God is his chosen portion, his sustenance, the one who holds his lot.  I like this because it speaks to the choice God gives us and to the responsibility we have to choose.  The Psalmist reports that in choosing God, he has effectively surrendered his sustenance and his lot in life, to God.  This is a supreme measure of trust, truly a surrendering, to have God take control over the outcomes of our lives.

Then the Psalmist acknowledges the blessings in his life – how the boundary lines for his life have fallen in pleasant and good places.

I find this confession of gratitude particularly moving because we generally have a harder time truly seeing the gifts we have inherited and those God has given.  I’ve found that this season of quarantine has accented for me the blessings in my life.  I have others, with whom I can eat and watch a movie.  I have folks I can hug and kiss.  I am not alone.  I have folks I worry about – which means I have folks I care deeply about in this life.  I am more acutely mindful of just how blessed I am by those paid the least in our society, the trash collectors, the grocery workers, those who make toilet paper, and those who run around warehouses fulfilling our online orders…  I am aware of how much more space I have to quarantine than many, if not most, in our world have.  Only a year ago and this quarantine would have rendered 4 people wedged in a two-bedroom apartment.  And for how many would even that be a luxury?

 

I am grateful to still seem well.  I am grateful to not have lost anyone dear to this dreadful virus.  I am grateful for private transportation – for the chance to get out without feeling vulnerable to a multitude of other people’s germs.  I am grateful that my work doesn’t require me to put myself and my family at risk on a day to day basis.

I am grateful.  But without a crisis to highlight how fortunate we are, do we actually stop long enough to ponder the ways our lives have been built on the shoulders of others; the ways our parents set us up for success; the benefits we enjoyed of education, connection, and experience?  My own experience is that my laments and complaints quite often steal the lion’s share of my attention.  So this Psalmist’s awareness of his blessings in life is quite notable.

 

Then the Psalmist describes his communication with God.  He says God counsels him, that his own heart guides him in the night, and that God is always before him.  With God at his side, he is secure, he is confident, he is stable and steadfast.

And this my friends, is a feeling quite scarce these days.
How many of us feel confident and secure?

The test of this for me has been grocery shopping.  Every day I learn something new, a new way to protect myself, new best practices and strategies, and every day I find myself wishing I’d known more and done better, earlier.  Each time I go to the store, I find myself winding up tight, like a coil compressed and ready to unleash.  The anxiety and discomfort of my mind manifesting in physical tension, pain, and exhaustion.

But this Psalmist writes that because he has God ever with him, before him and guiding him, that his heart is glad, his soul rejoices, and even his body rests secure.  His body rests secure.  How I am yearning for that!

 

It would seem that…

Living life with God taking the reigns and controlling the outcomes…
Living a life in which God counsels us, staying ever before us,…
Living a life of seeing and giving thanks for the blessings undergirding our lives…
This is a life the Psalmist finds life-giving, joyful, and secure.

And isn’t this what we all yearn for?  Life.  Joy.  Security? 

 

The Psalmist is secure in trusting that God does not give up on him but shows him the path of life.

I remember once, decades ago, as a staff member at Camp Hanover, how one of the lifeguards was gathered with friends in staff lounge, cutting up and shooting the breeze.  A fellow lifeguard, new to the role, came in to ask a question about lights, and instead of showing her how to do it, he withheld information needed for her to succeed and rather made fun of her as soon as she left.  I was taken aback.  But isn’t it true that quite often we are more comfortable judging and despising one another, than in helping one another and pointing one another in the right direction?

Our God did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through God.  And here, long before Christ came to walk the earth among us and work his saving acts, this Psalmist understood the heart of God:  he understood that God shows us the way, so that we might be blessed and be a blessing.  God shows us the ways that lead to life, so that we might have life and live it to the fullest!  Thanks be to God!!!

The Psalmist has experience to show him that in God’s presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. 

 

Do we have these experiences?
Have we tried and tested our faith? 

Have we pushed back on traditional teaching to challenge those things that make no sense to us – perhaps that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, or that we must lose our lives in order to find it?

Jesus said many things that folks found it very hard to swallow.  And if we are being honest, we will too.  But until we raise up our doubts and test our faith, we cannot be transformed by our God.  Until we experience God’s timely word, God’s saving arm, God’s perfect provision, God’s answers to our doubts…our confession of faith is often mere ritual.

 

Do you want to be someone who can honestly say that your mind is at peace and that your body rests secure?

Do you want to be someone who experiences fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore?

Do you want to entrust the outcomes of your life to the only One who truly sees, the master-gardener, the virtuoso Artist of your life?

 

Until we, like Thomas, question the things we do not understand, until we exercise our muscles of faith – following wherever God leads, until we let go the reigns of our lives and entrust all that matters to our Lord God, we will never know the awesome power and salvation of our God.

When Thomas doubted, it must have been hard.  He was alone in his disbelief.  And that uncomfortable position lasted for a full week.  But God met him.  God showed up for him.  God answered him!

 

As we navigate the new landscapes of our changing realities,
As we work and move and shop differently,
As we wrestle in isolation and quarantine,

May we like Thomas squarely face our demons, our questions, our doubts, our desires and hot anger.

May we bring our full selves before the living God, in honesty and truth.

And may we experience God-with-us in new, transformative ways

So that we too may joyfully confess with the Psalmist,

That with our God is life and peace and security

Gratitude, joy, and pleasures forevermore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Getting Real”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 22
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;[b]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life[c] from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

 

2 Corinthians 12

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.


 

In this Psalm of David, we hear David crying out from the depths of his own desperation.  He is so malnourished, he can count all his bones.  His situation is so very bad that he imagines his bones vying for his pieces of clothing – as though they foresee his end is near and want to make sure they all get a cut of his remnants.  He is so thirsty, his tongue sticks to his jaw.  He feels God has laid him out in the dust of death!  Everyone who sees him, mocks him.  They respond with religious-sounding canned answers.  They imply that his situation is the will of the Lord.  He feels encircled by the strong, who open their mouths at him, like roaring lions, and his heart melts within his chest.  There is no one to help.

 

I cannot imagine things getting so very bad as David is experiencing them, without the rescue of the Lord.  We hear in God’s word that he rescues those who love God.  We hear God saves our feet from the trap.  We hear that a thousand arrows will fall to one’s left and one’s right, but that none will touch the Lord’s beloved…  So why do we have these experiences?!?

Why does God let us get to the dust of death?  Why do we call out yet find no rest!?!!

 

Sometimes I feel like God is not keeping God’s Word to us.

(As though I’ve ever kept up my end of the bargain)

 

Sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing enough.

(As though I possess the wisdom to counsel GOD)

 

And I feel ashamed of these feelings.  I try to hide these feelings.  I do not give them voice…

And yet they rise up within me!

 

Why are the innocent suffering?!?

Why are children dying!?!

Why are our relationships so broken!?!

Why are entire lives wasted?!?

 

Why do the just suffer?

Why are the giving, exploited!?

Why are the tender-hearted abused?

Why are moments of beauty so momentary?

 

I am learning something new from David.

David was very clearly at the end of his rope.  David HAD BEEN crying out to God!…

And yet he cried out still!

Truly, he persevered in prayer, with a God, for whom he felt both love and anger, trust and bewilderment!

He KEPT CRYING OUT to God.

 

Second, David does not soften his feelings toward God.  He accuses God of forsaking him.  He complains at God for bringing him no relief, though he has cried out, day after day.  David knows God to be the one who does not forsake his children, the faithful one who hears, the one who cares…and yet none of this feels true in his life at the moment and he brings this up with God.  David confronts God.

How many of us do this?  Do we feel too ashamed to be that real with God?  Do we know the “right” things to say and feel…so much so that we do not even know the REAL things we are feeling or needing to say?  Do we trust God to still love us even if we let it all hang out?  Do we trust that nothing, indeed nothing, can separate us from the love of God?

 

A third thing I am observing is how David fluctuates between doubt and faith.

In one moment, he is complaining at God for forsaking him, for giving him no rest and in the next, he is remembering God’s faithfulness to his ancestors, God’s mighty acts and deliverance.

In one moment, he is complaining at how he is mocked and scorned by all who see him.  He quotes their prescriptions of spiritual wisdom – they who talk but do not help – and in the next, he remembers how faithful God has been to him, since his birth.

In one moment, he describes, in great detail, just how very bad things are and how alone he is.  In the next, he begins again to cry out yet again for God to save him.

We see a man wrestling with what it means that God is faithful and that he himself is suffering, that God provides and yet he himself is lacking, that God hears and yet he himself feels forsaken!

And I relate.

 

And then, when we see just how truly low David is, we hear this turn in his Psalm,

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

In the middle of this Psalm, there is a turn, God delivers, God provides, and David is filled with praise saying “the Lord has done it!”

 

And in all this, David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

This David

Who trusted and feared,

Gave thanks and complained,

Remembered God’s faithfulness and questioned God’s faithfulness…

This David

 

Perhaps there is hope for us.

 

I want to share with you a story by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.  A physician and a woman living with a chronic illness herself, Rachael is a counselor to both physicians and patients.  In this story, she shares the crisis one young man brought to her (p 39).

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 39

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 40 41

 

We can expend all our energy trying to be what we think God wants us to be,

Trying to feel what we think God wants us to feel,

Trying to act how we think God wants us to act.

But this is not what we see in this honest, raw, passionate Psalm of David.  And God does not abandon him in this, rejecting him for his anger and doubt, despising him for his weakness, …but rather God delivers him!

 

Perhaps, WE are enough.  Perhaps our anger, our questions, our faith, our hope, our disappointment, our feelings of betrayal, our feelings of abandonment, our swells of overwhelming joy and rejoicing….

Perhaps

We

Are enough.

 

Perhaps we can stop striving

To be

To say

To act…

And just be,

resting in God’s unending love for us,

And knowing that WE are enough,

because GOD is enough.

 

Amen.

“Boasting In Our Sufferings”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 5:1-5

 

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

 

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 



 

This passage from Romans challenges the way we approach suffering in our society.

 

It is common belief that you reap what you sow.

And where did that idea come from?

Well,… probably everywhere.  It’s the idea behind Karma.  And it is quite literally in the Bible.

There is truth to that statement.  We do reap the consequences of our actions.  But how-much-so does vary by situation.  Some folks, who you can easily and quickly think of, seem to have far more than their fair share of suffering.  And o-so-many have suffering we dare not ever attribute to the result of their actions or inactions, sins, or mis-steps.

 

While we do reap what we sow.  Life has shown us that that’s not always how things go.  Some folks seem to prosper in doing evil.  We can look at any number of big corporations to see that.  In our Old Testament reading today, we glimpsed a merciful ending to the crazy story of Joseph.  While God indeed used all the evil dealt on Joseph for good, Joseph suffered more than most of us will ever know – sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned for many years…

So it is clear that while we do reap what we sow.  Sometimes, we do not.  And perhaps many times, true justice or fairness may only come in the hereafter.

 

But I will tell you why I think this idea of reaping what we sow is so strongly engrained in our sub-consciousness as a society.  It’s because whenever bad things happen to us, we are mesmerized and incensed.  We slam our hands down; it isn’t fair!  We protest with righteous indignation.

We expect that if we do good, we will receive good.

And when we don’t get it, we get mad.

Often we even take it further:  we question what we did wrong.  We wonder where we went wrong to get such a bad outcome.  We rehearse and review moments and years and decades in our minds.  We turn a situation over and over in our imaginations.  We try to figure out why something bad happened.  We are trying to prevent it from happening again.  We hope to learn from the experience and change our future.  And we are grappling with feelings of inadequacy, shame, or guilt for being unsuccessful.

 

Now sometimes, these feelings are well founded in reality:  we have indeed made poor choices and we will do well to learn from them as much as we can.  But other times, this guilt and shame are entirely misplaced.

This is what happens with victims of assault, violence, and violation.  Quite often the victims feel ashamed – as if what happened to them has made them dirty, as if they somehow were flawed to begin with to have had this happen to them.  They, in fact, rehearse the horrid scenes over and over in their minds, searching to make sense out of what has happened.

 

And I think that’s the key to our responses when bad things happen – we want to make sense of them. 

 

We want to believe that we live in a world that is right and just.  We want to believe that good will happen to the good and evil will come to those who perpetrate evil.  We want to believe that we have power over our world and our lives. 

But, experience shows us that this kind of justice and fairness do not yet cover the earth.  This Kingdom of God living, where justice reigns and peace makes its home in our hearts – this Kingdom is ever coming and ever not-yet-here.  It comes in the actions and persistence and diligence, and compassion, and fierceness of those following the Spirit of God in this world.  But in many, many other realms, justice and peace and wholeness are not yet the reality.

And so no, we do not always reap what we sow.

And as much as we want to believe it to be true.  In loving kindness to both ourselves and one another, we must allow that it is also true that injustice and evil also wield their might and bring death and destruction.  We do not fully control or have power over the outcomes in our lives.

 

Now why have I delved into such a tricky topic after such an inspiring verse as this passage from Romans?

I have done it because I think Christian culture in America has a problem with “boasting in our sufferings.”  Christian culture in America will far sooner shame or judge those suffering than recognize, that for some, if not many, their suffering is undeserved and unjust.  Their suffering is a symptom of our societal sins, and not their own personal sins.

We suffer for the sins of one another, not just our own sins.  We suffer when someone in power lacks the courage to stand up to injustice.  We suffer when company’s and individuals think that to win someone else must lose.  We suffer when anyone tries to store up for themselves all the world’s wealth, without a mindfulness and compassion to their fellow human beings.  When one of us weeps, we all weep.  When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice.  …that is also in the Bible.

We affect one another.  But I believe that in our grasping to understand and order our world, in order to make sense of our experiences, we rush to blame.  We rush to explain.  We rush to judge.  We rush to dismiss.

And in-so-doing, we deal ourselves and one another death-blows.  We hit ourselves and one another when we’re down, when we’re at our lowest points.

And that is an even greater injustice.

 

Christ instructs us not to quench a smoldering wick.  In other words, when someone is down, do not push them flat to the ground, do not trample them further, do not break their back and their spirit.

But when we judge…  And when we shame…  And when we reach to explain the evil and suffering we see wreaking havoc in the lives of our brothers and sisters, we quite often are doing just that – breaking their spirit, piling on.

 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is counseling us to do just the opposite of this.

Instead of our hiding our suffering in shame.  Instead of tightening the hatchets and closing all the blinds.  Instead of isolating ourselves further when we need the most help – lest we be judged on top of it all…  we are instead to BOAST in our sufferings. 

 

What?!?!??

Boast?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Who in our society would BOAST in their sufferings?

The only place I’ve seen it consistently done, are in cultures and segments of our society that have known long-suffering.  Those whose descendants were enslaved, for example.  Or those cultures subject to genocide and discrimination.

And WE need to learn from these segments of our society.

 

How can WE become a community of faith that BOASTS in our suffering…

Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

 

IF WE can become a community that LIVES this advice of Paul,

That speaks out our sufferings,

Without fear or shame

Worry or judgement,

Then perhaps we will open the doors to SEE and HEAR and WITNESS God’s mighty acts among us.

 

For GOD IS DOING A MIGHTY WORK.

 

But we will only have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive it,

When we create a community safe enough

For each of us to be our authentic selves

Without judgement.

 

Perhaps then, a brave soul, would dare share with us the pearls quarried from the depths of their exquisite pain and suffering.

Perhaps then, we will hear and pay attention, and learn to see

Just WHAT our God can do.