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“Love Turning the Tables of Sin”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:23-33

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

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.

 

John 12:23-33

“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.

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“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. 28Father, glorify your name.”

Hear this intimate moment we have with Jesus, hearing the trouble of his soul.

 

Have you ever felt troubled of soul?
Have you ever cried out to God – “Save me!”

 

Jesus is troubled but will not cry out for God to save him – as he recognizes his purpose is bound up in this moment.
He recognizes that in this moment, something larger is at play.  And he knows that – in the end – God will use his death to “draw all people” to himself.

And so he remains
present in that miserable moment.
He remains
present
even as the waters of his soul are troubled.

 

How many of us are present to our pain? 

I know we all have deepest pains in our lives, and yet we are taught to sweep it under the rug,
to press through it,
to keep going,
to dry our tears and suck it up…

And Jesus not only expresses the distress of his soul, but cries most earnest tears in that garden, before he is arrested.

Jesus sits with his pain.
Jesus doesn’t turn on Netflix or start scrolling Facebook.
He doesn’t party harder, drink in excess, or just stay busy.
No.
He quiets himself.
He sits with his troubled heart.

 

And then he is able to press through it.

 

You see in sitting with it, he is facing reality head-on, un-medicated.

In sitting with his pain of spirit, he is pressing in, rather than leaning out.

Jesus is facing the awful truth that great fear and acts of evil will seek to end him.
He is facing a most painful transition.
He is facing the loss of this human life, alongside his friends.

He – who has touched so many in healing – will be the object of a people’s effort to silence him and to control the message…
He – who healed the sick and set the prisoner free – will be imprisoned, tortured, and barbarically killed…on full display.

I cannot imagine how Jesus felt, in the months and weeks and days leading up to his crucifixion.  Jesus knows what is coming, and proceeds anyway, step after troubling step. 

 

And he sees that his followers would face much the same opposition and suffering.
And he encourages them saying – you will do even greater things!

Note – Jesus does not say they will have it easy because he has it hard.
He doesn’t guarantee smooth passage, in fact he pretty much guarantees rough passage. 

He does not imply that they will know ease and comfort in this life.
Rather he compares his followers to seeds – that must fall to the ground and die – in order to yield and multiply their fruit. 

 

Like himself, Jesus’ followers would die in faithfulness to the Truth,
in love for God and God’s people
and like Jesus, they would not die at God’s own tender hands,
but at the merciless hands of people who do not know God, who do not see God, and who do not care.

And for anyone awake,
Alert,
Alive,
This is an emotional journey.

But in death, as in life,
Jesus models for us a way to handle such grief, pain, and affliction:
by being present to them
,
being present to that grief, pain, and affliction.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t take himself off the cross early or heal himself, as he most certainly could have done.
Jesus doesn’t command a storm to erase his enemies and free him from that most terrible crucifixion.
He is present. 
He bears it.  He endures.
He speaks peace.  He speaks truth.
He prays.  He keeps on caring…to the end.
And not without cries of pain, complaints and questioning of God,
not without his plea that there might be another way. 

And I suspect that if we are ever to live lives a fraction as faithful as our Lord Christ, we too need learn this deepest form of presence. 

 

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, a professor, a writer, and a theologian.  He wrote many beloved classics – some of which were recently donated by colleague Helen Laundry.  In his life, he aimed to speak faith into the most personal and universal matters of daily living.  And he writes this entitled, “Befriend Your Pain”

“I want to say to you that most of our brokenness cannot be simply taken away.  It’s there.  And the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often the pain that stays with us all our lives.  It cannot be simply solved, fixed, done away with…  What are we then told to do with that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart?  We are called to embrace it, to befriend it.  To not just push it away…to walk right over it, to ignore it.
No, to embrace it, to befriend it, and say, “That is my pain and I claim my pain as the way God is willing to show me his love.”

 

This is a different way of responding to pain than most of us run to.
Most often we numb it,
run from it,
deny it,
bury it.

But to befriend it,
To recognize our pain as yet another way that we shall know God’s great love,
THAT is courageous.
THAT is hopeful.
THAT is redemptive.
And THAT is what we see in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus walks through his valley of the shadow,
his dark night of the soul,
even while seeing it coming
because he KNOWS that the sacrifice of his life – sacrificed by human hands who did not know and did not love him – will nevertheless yield a great harvest of righteousness.  Through this most gruesome and tragic murder, Christ would indeed draw ALL people to himself – writing the law of God on hearts, instead of stones, in order that EVERYONE might know God.

Halleluia!

In this hell-of-our-own-making, in this senseless murder of a young man of color, in this our effort to prevent the ending of an era of fear-based works-righteousness – with all the power, privilege, and wealth it afforded a few – Christ nonetheless turned all this, our sin, on its head!

Even as we murdered Love,
Love was saving us. 

For our salvation, Christ endured such abuse none should bear.

 

So, as we walk this lonesome valley
– often alone in times of greatest trial, as was Christ –
may we recognize that WE ARE NOT ALONE
FOR CHRIST WALKS IT WITH US.
…For Christ is alive today, in our hearts!

We – who have died to this world and come alive to Christ –
Are under the jurisdiction of Christ.
Our lives are not determined by the evils that swirl around us or the sins that cling so closely.
Our lives are infused with the power of Christ living within us. 

 

So in our living and our dying
and in our resurrection from the dead,
may we too quiet ourselves,
and be present
– amid both joys and pain.

And by pressing in – whate’r our days may bring –
may we too
persevere
to the end,
by the power and presence of Christ,
living in us.

And in-so-doing,
may Christ flip every sin, every evil perpetrated against us, every failure to love and use them to build up the Kingdom
so that
many more might know – in the depths of their being –
just how steadfast and enduring,
long-suffering and relentless
is God’s love for them.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Rescue by Invitation. Are You Ready?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 3:2b-6
Malachi 3:3-7a

Luke 3:2b-6

…The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Malachi 3:3-7a

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.  Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.


 

When Isaiah made this prophesy that we hear John the Baptist later quoting, what do you imagine Isaiah thought of it?  How did he see this playing out?  All those years later when John begins quoting Isaiah in the desert, did John have a vision of what God was doing?

How did the people of Israel hear this prophesy?

 

I hear it in two ways, and I wonder what we are to take away.

First, I hear this call to each of us to prepare the way of the Lord by making the Lord’s paths strait.  In this I hear that familiar call and caution:  to be ready so I do not miss God, when God comes.  We human beings are notorious for cluttering up our hearts and lives with lessor things.  We are notorious for our mistakes and errors.  We insulate our hearts from the touch of of God, shut our ears to the voice of God, close ourselves off from the light of God simply in our stubborn willfulness to go our own way.  And the more we sin, the more we insulate ourselves apart from God.

This is the tragedy in which we find ourselves crying out to God, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!  For indeed, we need God to come and rescue us.  For we are captives to our own sin and the sins of one another.  Against all our better judgement, again and again, we find ourselves in the same spots:  broken and distracted.

 

And so the prophets Isaiah and later John both call for us to wake up to God’s presence.  For God is coming.  The Savior is coming!  And we do not want to miss out, distracted in sin, blinded by defensiveness, numb to God.

Make God’s paths strait.  Prepare the ways of God into our hearts and lives.   Be ready!

 

In the second half of this prophesy, however, I hear a shift.  Instead of hearing it as a directive to us, the listeners, I hear a shift as the prophet begins to state what will happen, what God shall do.  They say,

“Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

It is as if to say, that God is removing every kind of obstacle SO THAT all flesh shall SEE the salvation of God.   God is doing it, and the prophet speaks to this radical coming of God in which every obstacle shall be removed.

 

Do you hear the relentless love of God?  Do you sense the lengths to which God is going to so that ALL will know God’s salvation?

 

And our second scripture reading today speaks to what shall happen when Christ comes.  It speaks out this truth that none can stand on the day of our Lord – since all have sinned and fallen short – and that Christ will purify and refine us, with fire.  Christ will bear witness against all who do not fear God but rather persist in sin.

But Christ’s fire will purify us until the offerings of our lives and labors to God are presented in righteousness.

I love this verse.  Though the thought of the fire of God is a scary thought, I invite you to entertain another way of imagining it.  The image here is not a raging wildfire.  It is not a firey furnace.  No, it is the refiners fire.  It is fire for a purpose.  The object being refined is not consumed and no more.  Rather it is made more pure.  The excess is burned away.  What remains is fine and beautiful, pure and useful.  In this image, God’s fire is not to smote us from the earth, but to heal us – doing what we cannot do on our own.

And this image shows the persevering love of our God.  It is not a persevering love that tolerates evil and injustice.  It is not a perseverance that sits passively by, ignoring all that steals, kills, and destroys.  No, it is a fierce love.  It is a purifying love.  It condemns sin and evil, all that wounds and breaks.  It is a love that will not let us go and tolerates nothing less than holiness.

 

And God is making a way,

Removing every obstacle,

That ALL might know God’s rescue.

 

But our loving Lord does all this through a vulnerable, little child.

Our loving Lord does all this through a humble carpenter from the back-water town of Nazareth.

Our loving Lord does all this through the invitation, “Come, and follow me.”

 

We are invited.

Not controlled.

Not wiped out.

Not kept down.

…Invited. 

 

“Come, and follow me.” 

 

And yet another invitation comes to us in this scripture verse from Malachi:

“Return to me, and I will return to you.” 

 

God is assuring the people that GOD WILL DO IT.

God will make the paths strait and the mountains level.

God will eliminate every obstacle.

GOD will make us righteous before the throne.

GOD WILL DO IT.

 

Our job is to return.

Our job is to follow.

 

 

“Prepare ye, the way of the Lord.”

The Lord comes. 

Are you ready?