Posts

“Make Space for the Unexpected”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Matthew 28:1-10

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


 

Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.

Now they foresaw his death.  In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus:  “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.”  The tension is rising.  The conflict is mounting.  Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it.  But Jesus returned.

Jesus returned. 

And he would not be safe.  Not at all.

 

But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.

Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.

And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear.  They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed.  Will they be next?

And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward.  They hunker down and button the hatchets.  They tighten their inner circle.  They spend their days in a dark room.  They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there.  They start to worry about their next meal.  The fishing begins again…

 

Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?

 

And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.

How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??

No one.

Now the Israelites were a nation occupied.  They had been colonized by Rome.  They paid the emperor taxes.  They had known victory and defeat, power and exile.  But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change.  They ever faced threats of annihilation.  They built and others tore down.  Nothing seemed sure.  And the people were antsy.  Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won.  Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship.  And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus).  Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.

It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation.  And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy.  They yearned for liberation and power.

But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit?  At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed? 

Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?

To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:

“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”

What this describes is hope.

And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?

 

Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?

Will this pass?

 

We are grasping for hope.

 

Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?

And what is the world becoming?

So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
riding bicycles,
taking long walks,
slowing down,
sitting on porches,
making music,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.

We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse.  We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences.  We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.

But

Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?

 

We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…

Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…

 

It is easy to see our fears.  We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain.  It is easy to worry.  There are way too many things out of our control right now.  It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.

 

The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.

The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.

 

But JESUS returns. 

Jesus comes back.

 

When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death! 

 

Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time.  I do not know your particular worries.  I do not know how the waters rage around you.

But I do feel the waters rising.  I know the gravity of fear.  I have known the sting of loss.

 

But JESUS returns.  Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair. 

 

Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.

Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?

Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?

Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.

 

A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days.  Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.

 

Without openness,
Without space,
Without humility,
Without intention,
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.

 

We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.

Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God. 

Make room for hope

“Are We Blind? Do We Not See?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.


 

In this exchange in the Gospel of John, we get to witness just how blind the religious elite have become.

The ironic is as thick peanut butter!  Here, this man born blind, is the one who truly sees Jesus, confesses his faith, and preaches to the Pharisees.  And the Pharisees, all with sight from birth, are so blind they cannot receive this gift of truth and witness in the person and work of Jesus.

It is tragedy.

 

What gets me is the Pharisees’ logic.  Their logic is as follows:  Jesus healed on the sabbath, thus he’s a sinner, and therefore he’s not from God.  Using their own human rules, they conclude Jesus cannot be from God.

Now God had indeed given the Israelites the law, and the law forbade them from working on the sabbath, but as so many of us do, they took it too far and missed the point.  This law meant to preserve the people from overwork and exhaustion, this law meant to provide rest and relief, this law meant for life and wholeness…it was being used to deny life and wholeness.  It was being used as yet another heavy burden on the shoulders of God’s people.  The law was for the people – not the people for the law.  But the religious elite had done the work of interpreting the law for people’s everyday lives, and they’d restricted so very many activities, that even to rescue an animal fallen into a well would have been considered sin.  And Jesus would have none of it. 

Jesus did not let the main point escape him.  Jesus knew his calling to deliver and save.  And wherever he went, whatever day it was, he set himself to the task.  And he did not neglect the work of rest and retreat.  He very intentionally goes off by himself to high mountaintops.  He sleeps through storms.  He lives sabbath, even more often than most.

But because he disobeys the human-made rules of not healing on the sabbath day, the Pharisees conclude he is a sinner.

 

How many times do we do something similar?  Do we extrapolate a multitude of rules and moral codes, using them to disqualify others?  Do we judge people based on our own interpretations of God’s law?

You see, the Pharisees were technically preserving the law God gave them.  But as life presented an infinite number of variations and unforeseen circumstances, they themselves began to build on the law, interpret the law, build structures and rules around the law.  And before long, they could no longer see the difference between the law and their laws.  They could no longer discern the difference between God’s heart and their hearts, God’s will and their will.

 

Have you ever had this experience?  It is frankly not all that hard to do.

 

Have you ever been so sure you rightly interpreted some passage of scripture or some guidance, that you have closed your ears, eyes, and hearts to any other possibility?

I know I have.

 

But when we are so sure we know,

When we are so sure we see,

When we are so sure we hear,

When we are so sure we rightly understand,

We effectively have become blind to God-with-us. 

 

And here in this story Christ walks among them, with magnificent signs and wonders…

The blind see, the lame walk, the dead arise!…

The man-born-blind is made to see!…

 

But they themselves cannot see who it is who walks among them.  They cannot see because they are so sure they already see!  They cannot understand because they are so sure they already understand.  They cannot hear the healed man’s witness because they have already decided that this man is bad and Jesus is bad.

 

For you see, the very fact that this man was born blind had led these religious leaders to believe that he was full of sin.  God would not allow a righteous person to be born blind, they thought!  Sure this man and/or his parents sinned.  And that is why the disciples too are asking Jesus “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”

The religious leaders were teaching that every disease and ailment, every ill-fortune, was the result of sin.  And that led them to all sorts of judgements.  This is why Job’s friends all those years before were so adamant that sure Job had sinned to have gone through such extreme loss of family, wealth, and health.

 

But as obvious as it is to us that “bad” things do happen to “good” people, I think we are just as quick to jump into judgements when something bad happens to someone.

  •             Isn’t this why we keep our distance from those who are under?
  •             Isn’t it why we put so many rules around who gets our service and help?
  •             Isn’t it why we privately despise many of those in need?

 

As obvious as it is to us that God’s ways are above our ways, and God’s thoughts above our thoughts, I think we are just as quick to confuse our interpretations of God’s Word for God’s Word.

  •             Is this not why many of us dig in our heals and refuse to even listen to the others?
  •             Is this not why many of us close our ears and refuse to dialogue?
  •             Is this not why we consider ourselves such experts on who is “good” and who is “bad”?
  •             Does this not contribute to our own sense of pride and self-righteousness? – the fact that we are one of the only ones upholding our own moral code and set of convictions?

 

And as obvious as it is to us that Jesus was the Messiah, I think we are just as quick to miss the holy among us.  For when those who do not look like us, do not have what we have, have not learned what we’ve learned venture to witness among us to God’s presence and power and might,

  •             Do we not baulk?
  •             Do we not question?
  •             Do we not venture to disprove?

 

Has God shown up among us in the uneducated?

Has God shown up among us in the illiterate?

Has God shown up among us without credentials?

Has God shown up among us after being imprisoned?

Has God shown up among us in a person of different religious & ethnic background?

 

When God shows up among us,
are we using our own human standards
to discredit what is plainly before our eyes? 

 

May we humble ourselves.

May we reform from our addiction to judgement.

May we be like little children:  open.

 

For our God shows up. 

The lame walk,

the blind see,

the dead come to life.

“I was born blind, but now I see.” 

 

 When God meets us,

As indeed God has before and will again,

may we too have eyes to see. 

“Speaking Truth to Temptation”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

 

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


 

I’ve never before stopped to consider these two scriptures side by side – the fall and the temptation of Jesus – but there are a number of parallels that perhaps are worth investigating.

In both the story of Adam and Eve and Jesus’ wilderness temptation, we learn that the characters are tempted by Satan, or the devil.  Each time, the devil approaches them.  And it is noteworthy that both Eve and Jesus respond to Satan by repeating God’s words to them.

The differences in these two stories, however, is what sets them apart.  In the Adam & Eve story, the devil plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind.  He suggests that what God has told them is not true and that God is really trying to keep them down, to subjugate them.  He suggests that disobedience to God’s instruction will actually make them all-wise and all-seeing, like God.  Eve and Adam bite the bait.  The seed of doubt takes root.  They decide they want to be like God.  They decide that perhaps life will be better for them if they disobey.

But what they find is great loss:  loss of innocence, loss of comfort and security, loss of daily communion with God in the garden.  And they gain turmoil, hard labor, pain and suffering, and ultimately death.  They die twice – first they die inwardly, second they die outwardly, first their spirit and then their bodies.

This is a painful story to witness, and yet it very well captures our same doubts, motives, and temptations.  We too want to be like God – knowing all things, seeing all things.  We too want to be master of our own houses, captain of our own ships.  We too fall for the suggestion that perhaps God is holding out on us and that we can get more from life by going our own way.

 

And then contrasting is Jesus’ story of temptation.  Like Eve, Jesus quotes God’s word back to the devil, but Jesus holds fast.  In fact Satan’s strategy with Jesus is to challenge who he is, his identity.  Twice he says to Jesus:  “If you are the Son of God,…” then do this, do that.  But Jesus doesn’t fall into this trap of trying to prove himself.  He doesn’t try to justify himself.  He doesn’t doubt or second-guess himself.  Instead, he holds fast to God’s word.  He holds fast to the truth God has shown him.

So when this assault on Jesus’ identity fails to work, Satan tries the good-ole “power, riches, and glory” temptation.  It works on most of us!  He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, promising to give it all to Jesus if Jesus just worships him.  But Jesus again holds fast to God’s word and commands Satan to be gone.  Jesus doesn’t fall for Satan’s lies.  Jesus doesn’t doubt God’s love for him.  Jesus doesn’t believe God is holding out on him and that more can be gained by going him own way.

No, Jesus knows the love of God.

Jesus knows the word of God.

Jesus trusts God to have the very best in store for him.

 

And Jesus knows who he is.

He is secure in his identity.

 

Isn’t this how so may of us go astray?

We question our identity.  We question our worth.  We question our value to God.  We question God’s love for us.  We question God’s good judgement – to best determine what’s in our very best interest.  And we rely too heavily on our limited scope of vision and desire.

 

When I was young I didn’t really understand how to read the Bible.  Even still, much of it remains a mystery.  After all, it is rather confusing and obscure.  It is definitely not like your usual books.  And the characters and stories are difficult.  How is one to even begin to understand how to apply them to their lives?

But in college, I got to know some of our brothers and sisters of other denominational flavors, and what I learned with them would change my life.  I learned that when God is speaking to the chosen people, God is also speaking to me, because God has adopted me into the family of God.  I learned that statements about God’s character help me understand God’s love for and relationship with even me.  And so, for the very first time, the scriptures became alive and personal, relevant to my everyday life.

At the bottom of this article, I’ve provided a list of some of these foundational scriptures that changed my life, strait from a tattered type-writer copy I kept from college.  Condensed on this list are scriptures that speak to who we are and whose we are.  On this list are promises from God to us.

I learned from these brothers and sisters that I could fight temptations by speaking God’s Word.  And so when I felt afraid, I would speak aloud, “Greater is he who is in me, than he who is in the world; if God is for me, who can be against me; and God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-discipline.”

Scriptures like these taught me who I am.  They spoke truth into fear.  They helped me re-ground in God’s word instead of reacting out of my own fears and doubts.  And they pointed me toward the life and hope that Christ died to give me.

 

We can learn from Adam and Eve and from Jesus.  They both knew God’s word to them.  But while Adam and Eve allowed lies, doubt in God’s love, and a lust for power and control to overtake them, Jesus clung to God’s word, holding fast.

 

May we learn God’s word.

May we cling to God’s word.

May we speak God’s truth into our fears and temptations.  Aloud.

And may we rest in the assurance of God’s love for us.

 

You are beloved by God.  You are of great worth to God.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb.  And there is no place you can go where God’s love won’t follow you. 

 

May we believe

And like Jesus, find our peace.

 

Amen.

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental 2

“The Better Part”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 10:38-42
1 John 4:19

 

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.


 

I have heard this passage preached on so often, that I didn’t want to preach it.  I feel I could preach on it in my sleep, and if you’re like me, you start to tune out the things you’ve heard too often.  But on second thought I realized that this passage was appropriate for us because we have been very busy with many things.

Now I’d say most of what has occupied our time and energy, at least here, in this place, together, has been good things.  And I imagine that much of what fills your day to day, are good things.  But I imagine that you, like me, can loose sight of the important for the urgent.  You, like me, are probably not immune to the voices clamoring about you, asking for your time and attention.  And many of those voices are of those nearest and dearest to us, those we are charged to love and care for.  Some of those voices are the voices of others in this body of faith, asking if you might step up and step into roles of service in our community of faith.

 

Service is important.  Our Lord Jesus Christ served.  He served even those he was encouraged and expected to ignore.  Jesus’ life was service.  But in looking at the life of Jesus we also notice his life was that of rest and eating, retreating and being quiet and alone.  So many of the stories we hear of Jesus take place around a meal.  Some of the most striking stories occur when Jesus wakes from sleep to help folks who are facing life and death.   Or they occur when Jesus returns from leaving the disciples alone and finds them in a quandary or mess.  Countless stories of Jesus tell of him leaving the crowds with the disciples to rest and retreat.  And even more stories tell of Jesus retreating alone, and quite often to the top of a mountain.

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, knew his earthly need for rest and repose, eating and sleeping, intimate time among friends and intimate time alone with God.  JESUS needed these things.  Therefore, how much more-so do WE need these things?

 

In the story we read today, two sisters, Mary and Martha, host Jesus as he passes through the village.  Now as you might guess, hosting involves many things, not least of which is the preparing of food.  This task fell to women pretty exclusively, and it consumed the largest portion of any day.  So to invite others into the home meant doubling one’s work, at the very least.

Martha was probably the planner.  She probably knew exactly what this invitation would entail for them that day.  And she probably wanted to show as much honor and respect to the teacher as she could.  It was a daunting task, especially when you factor in all the visitors who would have come to hear the teacher.  She needed Mary’s help, but Mary, perhaps as flighty as I can be, was attuned to Jesus’ words.  She was soaking them in.  She did not think about all the work needing to be done.  She was lost in thought and in this person through whom she felt more love and compassion than she’d ever known before…

And quite understandably, Martha complains to Jesus.  She expects Jesus to put Mary in her place – to remind her that she too is a servant to the occasion and not the beneficiary of all Martha’s work – but Jesus does nothing of the sort.  Jesus in fact defends Mary as having chosen the better thing.

 

How could Jesus?  After Martha is serving him?!  How could he look this gift-horse in the mouth?!  How could he defy social expectation and give Mary a pass on the cooking and cleaning?  How could he act as though he didn’t need to eat and drink – as though he didn’t need the services Martha was so diligently offering.

Well, I don’t know exactly how this played out.  We do not know so many things – such as the breadth or scope of work Martha was attempting.  She may have been trying to make the fanciest, most difficult dish she could – to show respect or possibly to show off…  We don’t know.  We don’t know if this was Mary’s usual behavior, or if this Teacher caught her so off guard that she completely forgot her usual duties…  We do not know.

But once we move through the shock and perhaps the initial offense of Jesus’ words to Martha, I hear a deep compassion for Martha.  Instead of a rebuke, I hear an invitation.  Jesus reminds Martha that she has a choice in all this hustle and bustle.  Jesus SEES how distracted and worried Martha is about so many things.  And he points to Mary as an example of what is good and needful.  Martha too can choose to stop and be, to listen and be present.

 

Now if I were Martha, I would feel enraged at this insinuation that my work was irrelevant or unnecessary.  But Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying that.  Perhaps they all would have chipped in to cook at some later point…  We do not know.  But if I were Martha, I would also find myself longing to stop and sit and be still.  I would have been beside myself with jealousy at Mary, sitting at the Teacher’s feet like that, without a care in the world but to listen to each word he said.

Could I abandon my lists and tasks like that?!

Could I pause the hurry and bustle of my mind like that?

Could I step off the treadmill and sit and be?

 

And this is where I think of all of us.  We take on many tasks in love and service to the Lord in this place.  This place of sanctuary and community is living and effective because of YOU.  Your passion and vision, your sweat and service, your diligence and expertise, your care and planning.  YOU make this place overflow with love.

 

…But we cannot fill another’s cup, if our well is empty.

We cannot love, unless we have been loved.

We cannot serve, unless our needs have been served.

 

To say it another way, “We love because God first loved us.”

 

 

And so very logically, if we are not attentive to sit and be still, if we are not pausing to listen to God’s words, our wells will surely run dry.  And when we run around trying to fill other’s wells while ours is dry, we usually end up spreading need and hurt more than plenty and love.  We cannot give what we do not have.  We need to be nourished by God’s word, sustained by God’s presence, held in God’s unfailing love…before we are made ready to go out and serve.

And so I remind us all, that even as you work and serve and labor in the love of the Lord, in this place, and in your own places of life and work… May you take refuge in God.  May you return to God’s feet and open your mind and heart to hear God’s words to you.  May you lay down the needs.  May you lay down your worries.  And may you bring it all to Christ’s feet.

 

Our Lord who fed 5000 from two loaves and five fish, can care for you.

Our Lord who made the lame man walk, can care for you.

Our Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, can care for you.

Our Lord who created the earth and all stars, who formed the planets and the ladybug, can care for you.

 

Let us heed these words of Jesus, spoken to us now, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

 

 

May we, like Mary, choose the better part.

“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.