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“A Parent’s Abiding Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
2 Samuel 15:10, 13-14 and 18:5-15, 31-33

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

2 Samuel 15:10, 13-14 and 18:5-15, 31-33

Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then shout: Absalom has become king at Hebron!”

A messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his officials who were with him at Jerusalem, “Get up! Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Hurry, or he will soon overtake us, and bring disaster down upon us, and attack the city with the edge of the sword.”

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

A man saw it, and told Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom! On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

We looked at David’s life last week and how he behaved with Bathsheba.

This week we see his son Absalom fighting to overtake the throne from his father.  And we watch as Absalom is mercilessly killed by the servants of David.

Can you imagine the heartbreak?  This was David’s own son.  His beloved son.  In the days leading up to Absalom’s death, David gives clear instructions in the hearing of the people that his leaders should be kind to him by dealing gently with his son Absalom.  Yes, Absalom has caused all this pain and strife and death, but please be gentle.

And so when Absalom’s donkey walks under a great Oak tree with thick branches, Absalom’s head gets caught in the branches causing him to become stuck in the tree while his donkey walks on.  Caught in mid-air, Absalom is sighted by David’s.  The first one to see him goes to his general and reports the sighting.  The general asks whether or not he killed Absalom, and the soldier replies that indeed he could not and would not, even if he’d been paid a large, large sum. But his general Joab, put off by this soldier’s hesitancy, thrusts 3 spears into Absalom’s chest while he is stuck in that tree, still alive.  Then 10 of Joab’s men surround Absalom and kill him.  They throw his body in a pit and cover it with rocks.

This is Absalom’s end.

And so the news comes to David.  He quickly wants to know how his son Absalom fairs.  The messenger speaks of good tidings, as this usurper has been subdued!  But all David can hear is how his son is now dead, and he grieves with all his heart, wishing he had instead died in Absalom’s place.

Absalom had led an uprising in which tens of thousands had lost their lives.

Absalom had threatened the life of his own father.

And yet his father’s love for him remains.

So different than the snapshot we get of David taking Uriah’s wife Bathsheba in a moment of willful, rebellious desire, here we see David, a father mourning for the life of his son.

Here we see David broken in grief. Here we see David exhibiting the heart of God for his child.

For God loves each one of us like this.

We have dealt treacherously with God and one another.

Our actions betray our disbelief. Our actions display our own willful rebellion against God.

Our inaction while the blood of the innocent is spilled, while the vulnerable are exploited, while the stranger is abused…are sins against our God.

WE have rebelled against our heavenly Father.  We have spat on our divine Mother.

With the left hand we bless while with the right hand we curse.

We bless in public while we curse in secret.

WE have sinned against our God in ways that are deserving of our death.

And yet our God wished to take our place – that it would be God’s life instead of ours – that we might turn away from evil and do good.

And so it was.

God came to us in the form of a little babe.

God came to us in the wisdom of a pre-teen who’d left his family to go to the temple.

God came to us in the strength of a healer whose hands would raise the dead.

God came to us in the power of a man who stopped storms with a word.

God came to us in the words of the one who declared,

“Neither do I condemn you.  Now go, and sin no more…”

God came to us in the blood and sweat and last breaths of the one who would be nailed to a tree, brutally murdered, unjustly, to satisfy the will of a mob.

God came to us.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

With the heart of a Father, broken for the loss of his daughter.

With the heart of a Mother, in anguish over her wayward son.

God     came   to        us.

What David could not do – protecting his son from the just anger of his servants…

What David could not do – taking the place of his son, that his son might live!…

God has done for us.  God has taken our place, that we might live again, setting aside the sin that clings so closely and running the race that has been set before us, in a righteousness we could never earn but only receive.

Our earthly parents may or may not be able to love like this.  It is extraordinarily hard, especially in some situations.

But our God loves us relentlessly.  Our God is calling us out of death and into life.  And our God has made a way for us to come back home,

Forgiven

Free

Made whole.

 

May we all,

each one,

Know the extraordinary, unsurpassable love of God for us

And let it changeus

From the inside out

That we may “be

imitators of God,

as beloved children,

and live in love,

as Christ loved us[a]

and gave himself up for us,

a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

“Come, Blessed by my Father”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 25:31-46
Mark 6:14-29

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

This story of the death of John the Baptist smacks of such useless tragedy.

Herod, who actually enjoys listening to John and fears him, becomes a primary agent in John’s murder. How does this even happen?

We see that things come unhinged at that fated birthday party.  And perhaps there was too much wine.  Or perhaps he enjoyed his step-daughter’s dance a little too much. Or perhaps he simply wanted to make a grand gesture of appreciation – never imagining the dark turn it would take.

But we see that Herod’s new wife’s vendetta against John for calling out the immorality of her new marriage to her husband’s brother,…that is what has its way.

Herod and Herodios’ daughter were convenient accessories to the crime.

And so for no just cause, John the Baptist, the prophet of God, is murdered.

Particularly tragic is the position of Herod.  For it says he deeply grieved.  And we know he had respect for John.   And this curiosity he had at John’s teachings – the way he liked to listen to John, though he didn’t understand what he was hearing – it shows an ounce of curiosity for God.  It is the type of openness that God can use to break through our barricades and meet with us.

But it only works if we pay attention and give God space in our lives to work.

But Herod piles sin upon sin, making it increasingly hard to hear God’s voice and to follow.  He takes his brother’s wife as his own.  And then he starts down a path of pleasing others. His new wife hates John and wants him dead, so Herod has John arrested.  He promises his step-daughter anything she wants, and she asks for John’s death.  And so goes this slippery slope Herod is on.  One sin, leads to another, and another…

And Herod is not being true to himself.  He sells his soul for whatever it is he is trying to gain.  In seeking to please others, he betrays himself.  That ounce of fear of God and enjoyment of the prophet, does not inform his choices, the way he lives.  And when we pile sin upon sin, we numb ourselves to God.  With each layer of poor decision, we further insulate ourselves from the still small voice of God.

Because what happens when we’ve made a mistake?

Quite often, if we are called out, what do we do?

Immediately our defenses go up.
We make excuses.
We talk about everything out of our control.
We blame others…

Rather than take the big or small responsibility for ourselves – for the one thing we can control – we deny our responsibility, our own small or big part.

Now, I am one of the first to see every shade of gray in a situation.  Few things are only one thing.  Most things are layers, some nuanced.

Where there is wrong done, usually there have been many wrongs done.

God does not hold us responsible for the actions of others.

But God does hold us responsible for our own actions, for our own reactions, for our own inactions, for our silence, for our words…

What do we do in the face of injustice?

What do we do when we, knowingly or unknowingly, have played a part in that injustice, in that wrong-doing?

When I was in Guatemala on a mission trip just following my high school graduation, I learned some of the history of that nation.  The people have experienced injustice, loss, and hardship beyond what most of us can even imagine.

But what struck me and has remained with me was the story of how plantations have been buying up all the best land, the flatlands.  And so residents have been increasingly displaced and pushed to the hill country. And many, many have been lost in mud-slides, because entire villages have been decimated.   Story after story tells of entire villages buried, every person lost.

And that changed me.

For the first time in my life I could see a connection between our North American desire for world-wide goods produced in every season and shipped from far-off lands, and the pain and suffering experienced on a wide-scale by a people I would have never known.

That little action of purchasing bananas, what did that feed?  What industry was I feeding?  What practices was I supporting?

I may not approve of business practices and the high cost in lives lost, but what does my money say?

…because money speaks louder.

And so in this one example, my eyes were opened in some small way to our interconnectedness.  I began to notice how one action could have far-reaching effects on people I’ll never know.

I may bemoan the tragedies I witness online or on TV, but how might I have been even unknowingly participating in the problem?

Flooding & rising sea levels…

How have I participated in the problem?

Melting Glaciers, flash floods…

The overgrowth of CO2 loving algae in the ocean blocking out sunlight and killing off other monuments to the life and well-being of the ocean, such as our coral reefs…

Who is producing CO2. Do you know anyone?

My son dreamed last night that he was on a camp field trip and the whole place was shot up, he only escaped by playing dead…

Why is a teenager in our country afraid of being killed in a mass-shooting?

Next door at Envoy, person after person has been left there, indefinitely warehoused, shelfed and forgotten…

What has become of our society that our elders and those suffering from physical and mental illnesses are being dismissed for all they cannot be and do, rather than cherished for who they are and what they can do…

We have an endangered human species in our country, the black male…

And no, there are no simple answers to the epidemic, but I ask you, when you find your blood pressure rising upon noticing one walking a neighborhood or waiting on a street corner – imagine for a moment, they are instead a white woman…how does your internal safety meter change?…

Fewer and fewer people are going into farming.  Subsidies are killing competition and wiping out any hope for profits.  Milk farmers are especially hard hit, with many, many of them taking their own lives… These responsible, hard-working people are looking at generations of life’s work coming to nothing and the inability to provide for their own families.  What does that do to a provider…

We will disagree about what the solutions are.

Good!

We should disagree!!

As Billy Graham once said of he and his wife, “If we both agreed about everything, one of us would not be necessary!”

We need to disagree, because it’s in the dialogue, it’s in the coming together and listening to one another that our own world’s expand, and we open up to see the world from many eyes and viewpoints and places in life.  We are all the richer for it!

But let us struggle.
Let us ask these hard questions.
Let us walk these uncomfortable spaces, eyes wide open, that we might discern a better way.

It is a crying shame that our children have to be afraid of dying at school.

It is a needless loss that among our own community people have died because they cannot afford the sky-rocketing costs of medical treatment in the US.

Let us resist the urge to blame.  Blaming does not get us closer to a solution.  And we, if all truth be known and laid bare, do not have higher ground on which to stand.  None of us are without sin.

Rather, let us listen.

Let us befriend others who are asking the questions, and not just those who think like we do.

We who fear God know that our day of accountability is coming, when we will be face to face with our Maker and will be asked, why we did and did not do, why we said and did not say, why we fought and did not fight.

We who fear God know that we serve a God who weeps with those who weep.  We serve a God who values human life.  We serve a God who calls us to NOTICE those we do not want to see, and to treat them as we would want to be treated.

So my friends, as we go forth, may we not harden our hearts in defensiveness.

Knowingly and unknowingly, we play a part in the affairs of our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.  We play a part, big or small.

May we humble ourselves before God.

May we not be as Herod, piling sin upon sin, until our defensiveness makes us blind and deaf.

May we not be one as Herod, flirting with sin and evil, thinking we can stay one step of ahead of it, using it to our advantage…

May we not be one as Herod, fearing God but not enough to let it inform or change our actions.

Rather may we be a people who embody, Sunday-Saturday, God’s heart for this world.

May we be a people humble, asking God to open our eyes and show us our complicity in evil, that we might repent and change our ways, day by day.

It is in repentance and rest that we are saved.

And repentance was the very hope John the Baptist was calling Herod and all the people toward.  For in repentance, we prepare the way for God to work and move in our lives!

It is not enough to say the right things.

We need to put our money where our mouth is, so that when the rubber hits the road, our lives are more and more and morealigning with the love and light, hope and justice of God.

And when are face to face, may we hear these words of our Lord God,

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

May we struggle and find our way together,
seeing the face of God inone another,
listening for the voice of God through one another,
repenting of our sin and complicity in evil
and asking God to direct our steps
            to shape our days
            to make us a part of what God is doing in the world…

Because we know in whom we have placed our trust, and that the only one who genuinely and informedly has our best interest, and the best interest of all creation, in the palms of his nail-scarred hands is our Lord and Savior.

Thanks be to God!

“Expectant”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 12:35-40
Mark 6:1-13

Luke 12:35-40

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

This story of Jesus returning to his hometown always felt disturbing to me.  What a sad reality that Jesus was not seen or known or understood in his hometown.

And yet, it is not surprising.  When we think we know someone, we stop looking, we stop perceiving.  When we think we know, we close ourselves to new revelations.

We all do this.  When you are taking a new route, driving somewhere for the first time, there is much to take in and see.  But on the 50th time, driving the same route, much of the drive has become invisible to us.

When we love someone for many years, we often believe we know them better than they know themselves. And in some ways we do, and yet we can close ourselves off from seeing the person they are becoming.

These townspeople in Jesus’ hometown felt they knew Jesus.  They knew his parents.  They knew his sisters and brothers.  Amazement at his teaching quickly fizzles as the people realize he’s from around there, and they think they know everything about him.  He drank the same water, ate the produce of the same soil.  He is no better than any of them.

They think they know.
Therefore they do not look and cannot perceive.

And so I ask you.
What do you think you know.
What do you know that you know that you know?

It is quite often in these areas of our own expertise and experience that we can become blind. This is what it means to become set in ones ways.  To become set in one’s ways is to stop perceiving new things, stop allowing new things, stop allowing yourself to be affected or changed by the ever-changing world around us.

So where might your blind spots be?

In the stories we read last Sunday, of Jesus curing the woman who’d been hemorrhaging and raising Jairus’ daughter from a sleep they believed was death, Jesus speaks of faith and belief. For the woman who touched Jesus’ clothes and was instantly healed, Jesus says to her, “Your faith has made you well.” She believed she would find healing in Jesus, and she does.  And when Jairus’ daughter is reported to have died before Jesus could get to her, Jesus says to her father Jairus, “Do not fear.  Only believe.”  Believe.

In both these stories of miraculous healing, Jesus refers to faith and belief.  Faith seems to be key to unlocking the healing and receiving the blessing.  Believing is key.

And as we discussed last Sunday, It’s less about believing in a certain outcome and more about believing in Jesus, or having faith in God.

And so it is not surprising then than in his own hometown, where everyone thinks they know Jesus and therefore close down the shops of their searching and inquiry and amazement, Jesus can do no deeds of power there.

It’s as though these deeds of power are released by the faith and believing of the people.  And disbelief seems to cut one off from the power and blessings before them.

So here was God’s own Son standing in their midst, but they already thought they knew who his Daddy was, so they stopped listening and perceiving God’s presence and power standing, in the flesh, among them.

So what are we missing out on?
Who do we think we know?

I think this is why scripture urges us to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, to be ready and dressed and prepared.  The first scripture read presents the imagery of a master and slaves.  The slaves are to be ready for the moment their master returns.  Blessed are those slaves, it says, because they will sit down and eat, and the master will serve them.

This scripture urging us to be prepared was not written before the coming of Jesus.  It is not one of the many scriptures foretelling the coming of Christ, and preparing the people to receive Jesus.  No, this scripture is written to all of us.  It is written, after Jesus has come, to all of us anticipating the return of Christ.  We are all to be prepared. Ready.  Alert.  Waiting…

Scripture tells us that no one can tell the time or seasons or know when Christ returns, and that is why we are to be prepared at all times, and in all seasons.  We are to live as expectant people.

And so what does it mean to live as expectant people in our day to day, ordinary, mundane, predictable lives?

How do we prepare?  How do we make ourselves ready, alert, and waiting?

We find some insight in Hebrews, chapter 13:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

We live in love, mutual love. We show hospitality.  We think of others and their predicaments, as if we were walking in the shoes of others…

If we go on reading these verses of Hebrews, we find very practical advise for living.

And then in Matthew we hear these words of Jesus, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

I gather that we do not live as though God is far off.

Rather, we live as people expectant. We live as people who believe that God is among us.  After all, our Lord said, “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  We believe God is here.  Now.

We believe God shows up in the least among us – those our society judges and marginalizes:  the disenfranchised, the poor, those on the streets, those locked away in prisons, those warehoused in community homes…

When we think of these folks, we may think we know them.  Stereotypes are powerful because they are based in realities.  Many of the things we think we know may in fact be true.

But as a people who are expectant…  As a people awake and alert…  As a people who believe God is in our midst, showing God’s face in the faces of the least of these…  As a people hospitable to the aliens and strangers in our midst…

We are a people looking and seeking and mindful of God among us.

We are a people called to work and serve, notas if for human leaders, but as if for the Lord.

We are a people called to love and serve, our neighbor, and the stranger, as we would ourselves…knowing that insodoing we may entertain angels, or even God, Godself, unawares…

Brothers and Sisters, let us live as those who are ready to see and to serve God, in the faces of all we meet.   It may be in the face of the person who hands you your fast food. It may be in the face of the person who cuts you off in traffic.  It may be in the face of the neighbor you despise…

Our lives are not our own. They have been bought with a price. Just as our freedoms in this country were bought at the most precious price of blood and sweat and lives lost, so has our eternal freedom been bought by the blood of the One whose precious nailed hands formed us in our mother’s wombs…

We are God’s people. And that is not a badge of honor, a gold star, or a VIP ticket.  Being God’s people means living for God in all circumstances.  And it means ever looking for, ever praying for, ever searching and working and serving that we might see and know and love God, in our here and now, in the ordinary and extraordinary faces we meet.

For our God is with us. Christ is among us.

When God speaks, will we hear God?
When God acts, will we see?
When God calls, will we follow?

Let us pray.

Christ, open our eyes, unstop our hears, soften our hearts…  Forgive our arrogance that has blinded us to you and everything you are still doing in this world.  And open us, that we may live as your people,

Awake,
Alert,
Expectant.

“True Love Drives Out Fear”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 90:13-17
Mark 5:21-43

Psalm 90:13-17

Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I love these stories. They are bound together, similar yet different.

In both someone is unwell, physically unwell.

Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, a Jewish leader, approaches Jesus on behalf of his 12 year old daughter who is so ill she’s at the point of death.  He falls to Jesus’ feet begging Jesus repeatedly to simply go with him to his daughter, that Jesus might lay his hands on her that she may be made well and live.  Jesus agrees to go with him.

But on the journey, in which the crowd is everywhere pressing in on him, a woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, thinks to herself, “if I can just touch Jesus’ clothes, I will be made well.”  This thought is powerful, considering that she’d been under the care of many doctors, and suffered much under their care, ever worsening and never improving.  She too couldn’t have continued long in this way.

Not only was she surely weak, without adequate life-blood in her veins, but she was likely considered unclean.  As it is today, blood was understood to carry disease.  Thus, menstruating women were considered unclean.  A man coming into contact with the place a menstruating woman had lied down or sat was considered unclean till evening, and had to undergo ritual cleansing.

We do not know from where this woman was hemorrhaging, but it is likely this flow of blood had made her unclean for the past 12 years of her life.  As one unclean, she was to keep her distance from society.

And so this woman dares press into the crowd around Jesus, dares touching them all, that she may find her deliverance, her healing.

And immediately when she merely touches his cloak, she is made well!

Had I been in her situation, a quick pressing into the crowd and an equally quick exit would have been my strategy.  Try not to get noticed!

But Jesus feels the power leaving his body and calls out, “Who touched my clothes.”  If one had been hovering above, watching the sway of the crowd, thick around Jesus, one would have thought Jesus’ question absurd indeed!  “What does he mean, ‘who touched me?’ Everyone was touching him!”  And that’s exactly what his disciples say to him. But he continues to scan the crowd for who had touched him.

And the woman returns, shaking with fear.  She falls to his feet and spills the whole story.  She was guilty.  She had touched him.

But Jesus’ response to her is precious and tender:  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Even there in the presence of a leader of the synagogue, this woman confesses her whole ordeal and strategy. And Jesus dispels her fears, not chastising her for being present, not recoiling from her as one unclean, but praising the faith that she had in him to heal her.  Her faith is precious, and through her faith, she has been healed!

But while Jesus is still speaking to her, some people from the Rabbi’s home come to report to Jairus that his daughter is already dead – that he need not trouble the teacher any longer.  But Jesus overhearing says, “Do not fear, only believe.”

“Do not fear, only believe.”

His daughter has just died. And Jesus says, do not fear, only believe.
How dare Jesus say this? How dare Jesus ask them to believe? Believe in WHAT?

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Jesus goes with them to the house, where there is a great commotion outside, with folks weeping and wailing loudly.  He enters the house and says, “why are you weeping?  The child is not dead, but only asleep.”

Those around him laughed at him.

But he took the child’s mother and father in with he and 3 disciples, and taking the child’s hand he says, “Little girl, get up.”

And at that, she got up and began walking around.

Just
Like
That

Just like that, she is healed.

These stories raise a lot of emotion.

We are amazed and perhaps in disbelief of what Jesus can do.

And we are perhaps a bit angry about those who have not been healed.  Those who we have lost.  Those who may have had a great deal of faith, and yet lost a battle with cancer or left this world far sooner than we thought they should.

I do not have answers.
I will not tell you that it all happened as it should.
I do not think everything that happens is as it should be.
I do not think everything we experience in this world is God’s will.

We experience sickness and disease, evil and harm, sin and corruption, greed and want.  I do not believe these are God’s perfect will.  We have all at times walked in our own paths, outside of God’s will.  We despoil people and planet.  We ravage one another, taking dignity, power, and respect from one another.  We call profane what God has made and called good.

We do evil under the sun. And I will not call that good.

So I will not say that everything happens for a reason.
I will not say that everything happens as it must or as it should.
I will not tell you things are better as they are.

I will only hold you in my heart, weeping with you in your loss.  And I will claim this promise – that God uses ALL things for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes.  I will claim this promise that God knows the plans God has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a future of hope.

This God who came as one of us…
This God who poured himself out, taking the form of a man, and living as one of us…
This Christ who touched the untouchables, healed the sick, ate with sinners and outcasts…
This Christ who suffered himself to be crucified and killed on our behalf, that we might know the depth and breadth of God’s everlasting love for us…

This God, I will serve.
This God, I will love.
This God, I will follow.

I do not know why God does what God does.  I do not know what God allows what God allows.

I only trust, with all my heart, that God is love.  I trust that God loves each and every one of us.  I trust that what we see is not the end of the story.  I trust that there is more to this life than you or I can see in this lifetime.

And I trust that our God is making all things new.

Where there is death, God is making life.
Where there is sorrow, God is making joy.
Where there is evil, God is bringing justice.
Where there is brokenness, God is bringing wholeness.

This is the God we serve. This is the God in whom we hope and believe.

Do not fear, only believe, Jesus says.

What is Jesus asking us to believe?

That what we want to happen will happen?

Surely not.  Surely we do not know or even see the best in most circumstances.  We do not know.  Thank God our Savior is not like a genie, granting every wish and whim.

And yet, God does hear. God does know.  Our God does move and act.

Do not fear, only believe.

Jesus speaks to each of us.
Jesus calls to each of us in the depths and commotion of our fears.
And we are invited to believe in him.

We are not believing in any one outcome.  We are not placing our faith in our own desire to control or manipulate the strings of life.

We are choosing to trust and believe that God loves us infinitely and achingly.

We are choosing to trust and believe that God made us and loves us, just as we are.

We are choosing to trust, that whatever the circumstances and whatever the evils we will face, that God is with us and is enough for us.

Friends, do not fear.

Only believe.

“Faith, the Usurper of Fear”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-24, 32-49
Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-24, 32-49

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid.

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It occurs to me that so many of our Biblical stories are these stark juxtapositions.  The more dire the situation, the more dramatically God shows up.

In the first reading, it was evening, and Jesus and his followers were crossing the sea by boat with a great windstorm arise.  The wind and waves pummeled the boat, so much so that the boat was being swamped.  In other words, the boat was filling with water.

Meanwhile Jesus has managed to sleep through this whole affair – all the wind, all the waves, all the fear, the exhaustion, the utter desperation… and he only awakes when woken by his disciples who have seriously begun to wonder whether or not Jesus even cares at all.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

By all appearances at that moment, Jesus would seem not to care.  He is ASLEEP.  One could imagine that the only way he could be asleep would be by ignoring the realities at play.  How could ANYONE possibly sleep through this storm-to-end-all-days?

But upon being called, Jesus wakes and immediately says to the wind and to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”

The roaring ceased. And it says there was a dead calm.

And Jesus then speaks to his disciples saying, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

As someone who needs time to process an event, I would at this moment, have been in shock.  Of course now, it is clear that all is well, they are safe, there is no need for fear.  But seconds before, they felt with all their being that the end was nigh! All their experience of the world had shown them that THIS was exactly how boats went under and lives were lost. All their experience of the world had shown them that unless they could bail water faster than it was being blown and splashed into the hull, that they would surely sink.

Who could have anticipated what happened next?!

I have always heard this statement by Jesus as a rebuke.  It has sounded like he is still a bit disappointed in his followers for not getting it yet.  And yet in this reading, a different aspect of the story jumped out:

JESUS WAS SLEEPING

Jesus clearly had faith. Jesus clearly knew what the disciples did not.  And all this understanding produced sleep sleep amidst chaos.

Not a light or fitful sleep. But a deep sleep, that all the wind and waves and hot impassioned fear could not rouse!

That is some kind of sleep!!

It has been observed from car accidents, that babies can fair better than adults.  Not seizing up with fear or anticipating of a crisis, babies remain more supple, they go with the motion of the vehicle, sometimes even sleeping through an incident.  They can end up miraculously unscathed in situations with far scarier odds.

And that reminds me of Jesus’ own words about children – calling all his disciples to “faith like a child.”  Jesus lifted up those in society who had no rights, those who were considered property, those considered among the least upon the social ladder and LIFTED THEM UP as being the models for us all.

FAITH.

In the disciples’ struggle to believe, in their struggle to trust, in their struggle to have faith, Jesus lifts up children as an object lesson to the adults.  They have faith.  We need faith like them.

Corrie Ten Boom remembered vividly an experience from her youth.  A family friend had died, and she and her father made the train ride over to visit with the family.  When they arrived, they found the dead body of their family friend present in the room, and Corrie, still a young girl, had never seen a dead body before.

The experience shook her, and she had many questions for her father about death.  She worried it would be painful and she wouldn’t have what she needed when the time came.

And so he asked her, “Corrie, when we rode the train over here today, did you worry about your ticket for the train?”  “No,” she replied, “I knew you would get it for me.”  “But you didn’t seethe ticket?  How did you know that you’d have one, and that you wouldn’t be stuck, left behind?” “I knew because you love me, and you always present the ticket just before we board.”

“Death is like that,” he explained. “Our heavenly Father loves us and knows what we need.  When the time comes, God will give us all that we need.”

Indeed Corrie trusted her father with the faith of a child.  She didn’t worry about money for the ticket.  She didn’t worry that she’d be left behind.  She didn’t worry about her father’s love for her.  No she trusted him implicitly, and he was inviting her to trust God with that same implicit trust, for all the scary unknowns she would face in her life.

So what would it have looked like if the disciples had had faith?

Faith like a child

Could they too have slept through the raging storm?

In our other reading for today of David and Goliath, we see a boy, whodidhave a measure of faith.  He kept speaking his trust that the Living God would deliver them from this assailant.

This trust may have been bolstered by his young age and limited experiences.  It may have been

The result of his not having seen how dire things could get in battle.

This trust may have been sown by his experiences fighting bears and lions who had come for the sheep in his care.

We do not know what mix of faith and doubt he had.
We do not know what faith was born of naiveté or youth.
But where all around him there is fear – a whole army full of fear – he alone has faith.
And he alone gets the victory over this foe.

What would it look like if we have faith?

Each of us has faced and will face many storms in this life.
Some of them will feel like the end is near.
In some of them we too cry out with all our hearts, “Why, Lord?!  Do you not care?”

But may we hear Jesus’ words to the disciples, lessas chastisement or disappointment, and more as invitation.

Could it be
that Jesus is inviting his followers into a different way of BEING
in the midst of the storms and raging fears?

Is it possible,
that Jesus is inviting us into a way of peace that passes all understanding
– that defies logic!?

If we take a moment
to learn from the children in our lives,
how can WE have faith,
like them?

So that whatever may come,
we know
we are loved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth,
and we know
and can rest in the knowledge
that we are held in the strong and tender arms of our God.

It may be
that rather than exhausting ourselves
in endless worry and crippling fear,
we may instead rest and be renewed
that we may then wake
to speak
and act
and follow after our Lord
in such a time as this.