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“Shining in the Dark”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 5:13-16
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

 

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.


 

 

We continue following the drama through which Jeremiah and the people of Israel lived.  Indeed they were taken into exile by Babylon.  They were taken from the only home they’d known, a place where they governed themselves and bought and sold land…to a place they’d never known.  None of the former comforts or routines were present.  They were dropped in a sea of different, with no more than the despised prophet’s words to hold onto – that they would again buy and sell in their own land…

But how would that help them now?  What did that mean for them in their present situation?  Do they just hunker down and hold out until that moment?  What were they to do?

And God speaks to Jeremiah who again speaks to his people saying, “Build houses and live in them.  Plant vineyards and eat of them.  Find wives for your sons.  Increase and do not decrease.”

 

God knows that when we are traumatized and discouraged, when we’ve lost everything and been stripped of the familiar, we each respond somewhat differently.  But very commonly, we shut down.  We want revenge.  We want to make our oppressors pay.  We stop living, and we start ruminating on how we’ve been wronged.

So many of us have fallen into these patterns, with far less trauma.  When a wrong is done to us, it is natural to feel ourselves the victim…because we are!  It is natural to focus on the wrongdoing, if for no other reason than to make sense of the wrongful act.  It is natural to want revenge – because we are craving justice.  We too yearn, with all creation, for justice to roll down like the mighty waters.

 

How many times have we gotten stuck – unable to move forward in our lives?

 

The people of Israel are very much at risk of this very same thing.  And God is concerned that they do NOT stop living.  God wants them to keep living.

Now this is hard because HOW LONG will they be exiled away from their homes?  Will it be for 6 months or a year?  Will it be several years or decades or a century?

They cannot see what lies ahead in order to make an informed decision about how they go about their day to day lives.  The answers to these very significant questions would lead them to live very different sorts of lives.  And without that clarity and foresight, they are even more apt to simply stop living, and remain stuck in a kind of holding pattern.

 

God does not want this for them.  God knows the time will be long.  So God sends Jeremiah to speak to them yet again – to instruct them to go on living.  They are to invest in the place where they find themselves.  They are to make the absolute best of it – building up homes for themselves and gardens.  They are to keep living – keep giving their sons & daughters in marriage – keep having children and grandchildren.  God wants them to prosper.  And they cannot prosper if they stop living.

 

Are they in the place God promised to them?

No.

Are they in positions of honor and power and self-governance?

No.

Is there more for them?

Yes.

Is it for now?

No.

 

God explains through Jeremiah that the welfare of their exiled land will be their welfare, it’s prosperity will be their prosperity.

For now, their well-being is tied up with that of Babylon.  And they are not only to keep living, doing their thing, but to also invest in their community, making a contribution to society and praying for the land of their captivity.

Praying for Babylon.

 

Over and over and over again, when we have been wronged, God instructs us to pray.  Time and time and time again, when injustice occurs, God instructs us to pray.  And not just for some, but for all.  And not just for our friends, but for our enemies.

God instructs us to pray.

 

Could it be that this is how we get unstuck?

Could it be that this is how we heal?

Cold it be that this is how we continue to hear God’s voice and follow God’s lead,

Even in captivity?

Even in a foreign land?

Even when our lives know no comfort?

Even when we cannot see a brighter day ahead?

 

The people of Israel – just marched from their home to a foreign land, perhaps never to see their own houses and vineyards again – are to pray for their oppressors.  They are to pray for this foreign land.

It is counter-intuitive.

 

They are to invest in the land, knowing that the welfare of this foreign land will also be their welfare…

It is counter-intuitive.

 

And this is where God’s light shines most brightly. 

In the darkest night of our circumstances, God’s love permeates and floods all the cracks and crannies of our lives and the lives around us when we pray and obey. 

You see, the people of Israel were always called to be a light to the nations.  And here God has them squarely inside another nation.  And here, they can very much be a light.  IF they will continue to live…  IF they will bless their captors and not curse them…  IF they will trust and obey, even when they are bitter and scared.

 

Just like the people of Israel, God has called you and I children and friends.  God has called us light of the world and bread of God.  We are called to be salt, seasoning the earth with God’s light and love.

But we will only do this if each of us keeps living, if we keep praying, if we make the most of our wilderness-land, if we bless and don’t curse, if we invest in the places we are – even while hoping and longing and praying for the places we hope to be.

 

So will we pray?

Will we seek the welfare of the land in which we find ourselves?

Will we make the most of our days?

Will we keep living – building and planting and marrying?

 

Our God is with us, and our God is speaking still.

May we not lose hope amid the darkness.

But may we listen all the more,

Letting God’s light shine even more brightly in the darkness.

 

You are dear.

“The Audacity of Hope”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 91
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

 

Psalm 91

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

 

 

This is some radical hope.

Can you even start to imagine it?

In our world, an election approaches and everyone gets nervous about the real estate market & every other kind of market.  Things slow.  People get nervous.  People stop spending.

 

Can you imagine then what is going on as Jeremiah accepts his cousin’s request to buy land?

Jerusalem is besieged.  Besieged.  And by the army of Babylon, no less.  No one in.  No one out.

This isn’t the whole of Israel or Judah, no.  This is merely the capital city.  That means that much of their land – the more indefensible parts – are already overrun.  All that is left is the city, Jerusalem.  And IT is besieged.

 

And here comes Jeremiah’s cousin, asking Jeremiah to buy some land out in the land of Benjamin.

Can you picture it?

They do not know if they will still be in power day by day, much less alive.  And here comes this cousin asking Jeremiah to buy land that he can’t even get to (and may never see).

 

It is weird.  NO ONE in their right mind would do it?  Right?

This is so far beyond worry surrounding an election.  This is next level.  This is the United States overrun by another country & the last of the people holding out in Richmond, lets just say.  Richmond alone is left.  Society as we know it, completely uncertain, totally unraveling around our eyes.  Can you imagine it?

 

But God speaks to Jeremiah about his cousin’s request, before it happens.  God speaks.  God does that thing that God does, speaking to those who dare to listen…and to follow.  God tells Jeremiah this will happen.  And so when it does, Jeremiah recognizes that this insane request is from God.  GOD is working through this.

 

SO, in a time when everyone is closing their windows and locking their doors.  When folks are burying money under their homes.  When folks are ceasing to buy and trade…  THIS is when Jeremiah buys a piece of land that he can’t get to and may never see.

Because God tells him too.

 

Wild huh?

 

Truly this is when we might call social services on our relatives…making such an irrational decision.  But God had gotten Jeremiah’s attention, and Jeremiah trusted that God was in it.

So he follows.

 

He buys the land,

Publicly, in the presence of many witnesses.

 

And then he turns immediately,

Also in the presence of those same witnesses,

And gives both copies of the deed to Baruch,

Who he charges to seal in an earthenware jar, to last for a long time.

 

For it would be a long time,

But they would again buy and sell land in the promised land.

 

And with this mic drop, Jeremiah finishes.

 

 

Jeremiah has just done two very bizarre things.  He has bought property at the eve of societal collapse, AND he then gives it away.

He grabs everyone’s attention.  And while they are all watching in disbelief, he speaks God’s word to them, God’s word of hope:  “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

 

If you aren’t familiar with Jeremiah, he was a strait shooter.  He spoke things plainly, how God showed them to him.  He told the people about their sins and how they would be taken by siege.  In fact, he delivered “bad” news so often that folks got fed up with hearing him speak at all.  He was left in a pit for awhile because he just wouldn’t stop telling people things they didn’t want to hear.

Jeremiah knew that his people would be carried away into captivity by Babylon.  And as much as folks wanted to dismiss his words as fake news, he was speaking God’s word to them.  And everything he spoke would come true.

And when God instructs Jeremiah to buy this land, knowing full well he would never enjoy it, he obeys.  He follows.

And God uses it to speak a message of hope to the people.

 

Now of course, this wasn’t the message of hope they were likely looking for.  I’m fairly certain they wanted to hear that the entire Babylonian army would die from a plague and they would be set free.  I am sure they wanted to hear that the army would be recalled to fight some other battle in some other land.

 

This was not Jeremiah’s message.

But Jeremiah’s message was one of hope, profound hope.

EVEN THOUGH, they would be exiled for many, many years…  Even though their tears would be their food…  Even though they would be with strangers in a strange land, they would survive.  And they would once again return to their home,… and buy and sell land.

 

Now I realize that folks have many opinions and feelings about the nation of Israel today and the much-contested promised land.  I do not pretend to know the solutions to all that plagues this corner of our world today.  And I ache for those who have known long-suffering and instability.

But let me invite you to look past all this for a moment, and to imagine how Jeremiah’s words might stick with you

…when you are stripped and chained to your neighbors, marching one by one to another land against your will

…when you are resettled in a place you don’t want to be, despised and discriminated against.

…when your life is on hold for years, waiting for some deliverance than never seems to come

…when your children are starting to marry and make this foreign land their home…

How would Jeremiah’s words stick with you? 

 

Through the incredible obedience of his servant Jeremiah, God has gives his people a vision of the end, that does not lie.  God gives the people a question mark over all the upsetting events of their present day lives.  God gives the people a ray of hope in their darkened tunnels.  God gives the people the audacity of hope.

 

Now I do not know the situations and circumstances and people who have your insides turning into knots.  I do not the know what armies besiege your wellbeing, your finances, your families…  I do not know how you have felt trapped, no movement in, no movement out.  But our God does.

And our God continues to speak to us, out of the depths of our pain and waiting.

 

I invite you to open yourself to God, to ask God to speak into your circumstances and relationships and then to wait, to be quiet, to invite your mind to slow and pay attention, and to listen …for God’s word to you.

For “’I know the plans I have for you,’

says the Lord,

‘plans to prosper you

and not to harm you.

To give you a future

of hope.’ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Dance with the God of the Universe”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139
Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.


 

Repentance is a turning.  It is a 180.  It implies turning away from evil AND turning toward good.

In this scripture, we find God speaking to Jeremiah as he gazes on the work of a potter.  Just as the pot went bad in the potter’s hands & the potter then chose to make it into something else, so is our relationship with God.  It is a relationship!  Like a dance partner, God is responding to our every move.  God is not only attuned to all our goings & coming, all our words & thoughts, all our actions & inaction.  God is also responding to our choices.

 

How amazing is this, that the God of the universe is interacting with you and with me,

Dancing with you and with me.

 

Have you ever given it much thought?

 

We are not controlling the outcomes.  We are not manipulating God.  But God is responding to our lives and choices.  So when we do good, God builds us up, and when we turn toward evil, God sets out to put a stop to it and keep us down.  When we align ourselves with evil, we set ourselves against God.

Our God is a holy God.  Thanks be to God, evil is an intolerable violation of God’s goodness and truth.  Thanks be to God, we have a God who comes beside us in doing good.  Our lives matter.  And each life matters.  Therefore, evil is not benign or acceptable.  Not at all.  Evil kills and steals and destroys all that which is good and holy and true.  And our God takes action.

So we need to make decisions.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to follow or to turn to our own way.  Everyday we are faced with temptations and shortcuts.  Everyday we are faced with opportunities to love and to serve.  We are faced with the opportunity to speak truth or to lie.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to build up or to tear down.   Everyday we have the chance to bless or to curse those with whom we come in contact.

 

So what is the trail of our lives?

What is in our wake?

What story do our lives tell?

How many have been impacted?  And has it been for good or for evil.

 

God is responding to each of our choices, our decisions, and indecisions.

 

Do you want to align your life with God, coming alongside God in doing justice and loving mercy?  Do you want to set yourself in opposition to God and all that is good and holy and true?

 

Some have interpreted the Presbyterian concept of pre-destination to mean that God arbitrarily favors some over others, saving some and damning others.  That is not what I understand from the Bible.   While our actions have consequences and we can choose to step out of God’s life and salvation, I read that our God wills that all shall be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.  I read that Christ came, not to condemn, but to save the lost.

Our God has met us more than halfway.  Our God knows that we are made of dust.  We are not expected to be perfect.  And God knows we will stray.  But our God is inviting us, over and over and over again to return to God.

It is never too late to return to God.

And this scripture assures us that if we will but turn from our wicked ways, God may turn aside the consequences we had coming.  Because our God loves mercy.  And when we turn TOWARD God, we find a God ready and willing and waiting to welcome us back home.

 

Our lives are not planned out for us in advance.

The dance is not mapped out.

Our words, our choices, our actions matter.

And our God is here.

 

May we be a people of returning.

May we continually turn away from evil and toward God.

May we allow God to take the lead…

that we might indeed live into that fullness and quality of life Christ died to give us.

“Fierce Love. A Hard Word.”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 29:10-14
Isaiah 6:1-12

Jeremiah 29:10-14

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Isaiah 6:1-12

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

I find this scripture about Isaiah’s experience in the presence of God mesmerizing.  How exciting and terrifying.  I can understand why Isaiah was terrified and confessed his own sin and unworthiness to be in God’s presence!  But this fear is met by a cleansing by fire – not something scary but something experienced more as sanitizing or purifying Isaiah, so that his sin is blotted out, and he can be safely in the presence of God. How fabulous!

It is after this moment that Isaiah hears God conversing with Godself about who they will send for a task, and Isaiah appears unhesitant; he immediately offers himself, saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

I find this quickness to offer himself in service to God both utterly beautiful and perhaps a little hasty and short-sighted.  Isaiah doesn’t learn until after he’s volunteered himself, that he will bear a hard message to God’s people.  Though mercy and grace do enter into Isaiah’s message many times, it is intermittent, with much of the message he is entrusted with delivering being what will feel like bad and dreadful news indeed.

Isaiah is entrusted with the hard role of speaking a hard discipline over the people of God.  God is not finished with them, though they have been unfaithful upon unfaithful.  God is still involved, loving and disciplining them, that they may return to God, in righteousness and justice, love and faithfulness.  But the means to that end can feel harsh indeed.

Isaiah must pronounce their destruction, letting them know that this destruction is not merely bad luck or happenstance but that it is God’s judgement over them.

I would not want this job. I cannot imagine signing up for a more dreadful kind of job.

Now some of you may have no qualms at all with a role like this.  Many of you have lived this role in various ways through-out your lives. Some of you may actually enjoy it.

But I struggle.  I struggle because in stark discipline I hear the echoes of every person who’s ever abused their power and authority to enact control and power, manipulation and perhaps revenge over another human being. I think to each one who’s ever been misunderstood and demonized, maligned and victimized.  I think of punishment that is full of reactionary rage.  I think of adults who have not yet learned to master their reactions and choose to respond, in accordance with their values.

And while these situations do exist –
while many, many through-out history have and continue to abuse their power in order to control others and
while discipline is often confused with punishment and revenge –
this is not all that exists in the world.

There are also those whose discipline flows out of their fierce love.  Discipline for them is a supreme act of love; it shows a love that is not giving up; it shows a re-investment in a person or relationship, despite the challenge and effort. Discipline in its most true form is fundamentally love.

Discipline says to one who’s crossed a line:  “No more!”
Discipline says to one who’s harming herself or another:  “No more.”
Discipline says, “I love you too much to allow you to continue in this way.”

Discipline is, in fact, a primary way children will feel their parent’s love.  Despite the fact that they rage against it, the alternative (a parent who does not care or even get involved) is much more scary and heart-breaking.  That is why they say that children yearn for discipline.

So despite the fact that we, as human beings, detest most discipline, we utterly need it.  We need to know we matter.  We need to know our lives and actions matter.  We need to know that other lives matter too.  We need to know that our wellbeing cannot come at the expense or exploitation of another.

We too crave discipline.

And here, we read of a God who has not given up on the people.  We read of a parent who has not stepped away, thrown in the towel, or flown the coup (though at times one may need to step away).

No instead we find a parent finding a way to lead beloved children away fromsin and back toward all that is life-giving and good.

For those of you who’ve had the opportunity thus far to parent another or those of you who’ve paid attention to the lives of children, you probably know the dynamics that occur in children who receive only compassion and generosity, without any discipline.  Feelings of entitlement brew.  Free, undeserved gifts of grace are often seen as due.  Gratitude for the mercy and grace and goodness that surrounds them can be non-existent, as this goodness is largely taken for granted and thus invisible to the child.

Without experiencing the pain of their bad behavior and sins, they cannot in fact SEE the mercy and grace that covers their lives.

This is why we have to work hard to not rescue children from their own consequences.  This is why discipline is so essential.  For without it, we cannot EVEN SEE God’s goodness and grace.

Though contemplating the discipline of God may be a very hard pill to swallow, let us rejoice in the knowledge that our God cares.  Let us rejoice in the assurance that our God has not given up on us.  Let us rejoice in the hope that God is not done with us but is still active and moving in our lives.

And let us rejoice that our God does not tolerate sin and evil.  Our God detests all that brings death and destruction into this world. Our God fiercely loves each one of us, and all of creation.

Could we serve a God who did not fight for us and all that is holy and good?

If our scriptures ended here – if all we knew about God was this verse – I would likely feel no hope at all.  I would feel that God must be a harsh God.  I would be scared for my life.  – and God is indeed powerful and mighty!

But scripture does not end here.  Isaiah does not end here.  God does not stop the message here.

This same God speaks hope to us in the verse that declares:  “God desires that each one would be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.”  God’s heart is expressed in the verse, “Christ did not come into the world in order to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.”  We know God’s love in this:  “that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son in order that all who believe might not perish but have everlasting life.”

God’s love is in the beauty and fullness of creation.  It is in the summer shade and the winter’s sunshine.  It’s seen in the miracle of new life.  It’s seen in the healing of forgiveness and second chances.

While none of us have lived charmed lives free of pain, God’s love has attended us, even before our birth.

May we be a people who, like Isaiah, are quick to offer ourselves in God’s service.
May we be a people who, like Isaiah, are faithful to God’s call, even when it is hard and unpopular.
May we be a people who can see and give thanks to God for love shown in discipline
– knowing that we have a heavenly parent, who loves us so much, that we are not left alone to our own devices and destructions,
– knowing we are pursued by the God of all creation, who loves us too much to allow us to continue in ways of death and destruction.

May we ever heed our heavenly Lord’s instruction.
May we trust that our God withholds no good thing, but surely hears our cries.
And may we believethat God indeed has plans to prosper us,
and not to harm us,
to give us a future
with hope.

“To the Cycle of Sin and Death, Jesus says, ‘No More'”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 12:20-33
Jeremiah 31:29-34

John 12: 20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “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.

Jeremiah 31:29-34

In those days they shall no longer say:

“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

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.

Jeremiah knew what it was like to feel pain.  From what we hear of his life, he endured much pain, for extended periods of time. Jeremiah was called by God at a young age.  Jeremiah famously protested that he did not know what to say to the people.  And God famously answered that God would be the one providing the words.

And so Jeremiah begins as a youth to open his mouth to speak the words that God puts on his lips.  He proclaims God’s righteous judgement over Israel.  They had the outward appearances of righteousness, but not that inner righteousness that the Lord requires.  The people’s social injustices done to one another was a travesty before God.

Jeremiah proclaimed that God would discipline the people by the hand of a foreign ruler from the north. But the people did not heed him. They did not heed God’s word to them through the prophet.

The political climate during Jeremiah’s lifetime was in full flux, starting with a decent but somewhat ineffective spiritual leader King, succeeded by his material-loving, self-serving, and heartless behaving son, who soon invited the attentions of foreign oppressors.  This second King has a short-lived stint in power, dying just before Babylonians besiege the capital, but the damage done is such that his own son has to surrender to the invaders, and be exiled.

In his place is a newly appointed King, a puppet of the Foreign government.  Though this King is receptive to Jeremiah, he is reported to have been weak and vacillating.  The courts become rent with conflict.  And after 10 years, the King stops paying tribute to Babylonia, making an alternative deal with Egypt.  And so Jerusalem is once again besieged by Babylonia.

All the while Jeremiah keeps insisting that they submit to Babylonia, that it is God’s doing.  But folks despise his words so greatly that they find a way to arrest him on maligned charged and throw him into a dried up cistern, left to die.

He is rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch, but still held in prison, and he continues to proclaim God’s words to the people from his confinement, until Jerusalem falls.

Many, many more Jews are led out into exile, and some left behind and fearing Babylonian reprisal take Jeremiah, against his will, to Egypt, where he continues to speak God’s words to the people, until he is allegedly stoned to death by his exacerbated countrymen in Egypt.

Jeremiah’s life was hard! He was called to speak God’s Word and move his fellow citizens to repentance at a time that was full of conflict, change, real external threat and oppression…  He was called to speak truth to a nation at a time of great flux and great loss.

And though his words are now remembered, they were hardly more than tolerated for most of his lifetime.

THIS Jeremiah, who perhaps had every outward reason to be angry and resentful toward his nation and neighbors, …still proclaims God’s love and mercy, God’s forgiveness and acceptance.

In the passage we have just read, Jeremiah details a coming change in the way things have been. Formerly, through-out their history and witnessed by scripture, the children of sinners are considered sinners too. Sin is believed to pass from parent to child.

This is common even in our experience, is it not?

How often does a child hate the behaviors of a parent, only to behave exactly the same way, when that child grows up and becomes a parent.

How often have we heard a child say something entirely and shockingly prejudiced and felt certain he or she learned that at home?

How often have the sins of our parents seemed to entangle us?  How many hours of therapy have been dedicated to identifying the patterns, reactions, and behaviors ingrained in us from our childhood and in trying to intentionally re-train our brains and behaviors to reflect less our childhood programing and more our adult self and beliefs?

We affect one another. Indeed the sins of a parent deeply shape their children.  And in time, those children’s sins deeply shape their own children…

And so, on and on we go, passing down sin upon sin…

But Jeremiah speaks to a continental sized shift.

You may have read God’s judgements in the Old Testament, in which an entire family is to be killed for one parent’s sin.  These verses are difficult to read.  It raises questions of what kind of God we serve.  But here in this passage, Jeremiah witnesses to a change that is coming: the change in which each person will be accountable only for their own sins, and not the sins of their parents. The entrapment is over.  This doomed cycle will be stopped.

And I believe Jeremiah is here witnessing to the coming age that Jesus himself ushers into our world.

Because in fact, as hard as we may try, we cannot fully extricate ourselves from our parent’s sins. We cannot fully realize our own personhood, without a lot, if not a little, of our history creeping in and calling the shots, determining our future, leading us right down the same paths of our parents…

Jeremiah acknowledges that the Israelite people have not keep their covenant with God, though God had been faithful to them (indeed, they could not!).

But God would be making a NEW Covenant with them:

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.

This is a major shift.  Rather than everyone’s being reliant on a prophet or priest or soothsayer to speak God’s Words to them now and then…  Rather than being doomed from the time they are born, by virtue of their parent’s sins, which they too can never shake…  Rather than being caught in this cycle of sin and condemnation,…

God is making a way.
God is changing the script.
God is intervening by changing all the rules.

Instead of God’s spirit being given only to a few, God will POUR OUT God’s Spirit on all flesh.  From the least to the greatest, from the oldest to the youngest, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh, so that the law of God will not simply be written on a scroll, for only the elite, only the educated, only the anointed…to know and understand.

It will be written on hearts, so all can know and understand.

And in this time, no longer will children be held accountable and entrapped by the sins of their parents because Jesus is doing a new thing and forgiving all, their sins!!!

I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.

While before we cannot commune with God because our sins are always in the way, in Christ, we are a new creation, we are adopted into the family of God!, and the barriers between us and God are broken down.

The writer of John witnesses to Jesus saying,
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

JESUS stands before his own death, knowing that for this very purpose he was called.

Yes, he was called to teach and heal and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Yes, he was called to demonstrate a new way of being human to one another.

AND he was to wage warfare on the powers of sin and death.  Jesus would drive out the ruler of this world, the confines of sin and death, our entrapment to evil, and overcome our own complicity in evil with Christ’s own outpouring of love.

Jesus would call us friends.  Jesus extended the boundary lines, way beyond the borders of the nation of Israel, and opened us to see that God’s heart was for all people – that anywhere the Spirit of God was, God was indeed there also.  Jesus tore down the dividing walls of sin and evil and declared all fit before God, covered in his own righteousness, trusting in his sacrificial love…

You see, the cycle has been broken.
Each of us can now listen to God on our own.
Each of us is now empowered to make decisions to follow God or to turn away…
Each of us is held accountable for our own mess, our own sin, our own turning away…

But in this new freedom, we are not left on our own.  We are not individually accountable, just so we can fall and fail again, of our own devices…

We are shown such love and mercy, such forgiveness and grace, such abiding love that God is at work, changing us from the inside out, re-writing our own scripts.  And Christ’s work of reconciliation, between us and God, is done!

We have only to believe,…
to receive this knowing that seeps down deep into the cracks and crevices of our very being,…
and to let God’s irrational, unstopping, fierce love for us make us more and more, day by day, into the likeness of Christ. 

Thanks be to God, who in Christ has flipped the script
has intervened
has broken into the prisons of our own making and those we have inherited

And is breaking every chain!

That we may indeed LIVE as children of the Most High God,
Turning and returning,
Trusting and believing,
…And more and more reflecting the light and love,
justice and righteousness
hope and wholeness of our our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.

Thanks be to God for this new script, this new life God made visible and is making available to us in Jesus Christ our Lord!

May it be so in us.