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“You Are Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 5:1-16
Isaiah 49:1-7

 

Matthew 5:1-16

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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

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

Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”


 

Isaiah is a book full of so many things.  But most often I am drawn to passages in Isaiah.  God’s commitment to justice and healing alongside God’s discipline and compassion is moving.  I get a real feel for God’s heart for the people.

The prophet has been addressing the people of Israel in their exile in Babylon.  They are a people fractured.  Hardly set-apart, they are rather smooshed in between the people and gods of a foreign land.  Their whole rhythm of life and faith has been de-railed.  Their culture and heritage is in question as some start to assimilate, others hold to their old ways rigidly, some become opportunists, others writhe in their anger and angst, and others still wither away in despair and depression.  We all respond differently to having our entire lives and worldviews uprooted, and they were no different.

So Isaiah is speaking to a people that run the gamut of emotion.  And their faith – very rooted in custom and ritual, holy sites and holy days – has lost its center.  Some are questioning everything.  Some believe God has turned on and rejected them.  The landscape of feeling and faith is messy, and Isaiah is calling them back to a God who has never forsaken or stopped loving them.  Isaiah is calling them to trust that their lives are not simply at the mercy of whomever has the mightiest army of the day, but that God is working and moving through every event.

And his message is a hard sell.

 

But he is calling them back to trust.

 

And the verses we read today mark a significant change.  Because in this chapter, Isaiah shifts from addressing the people of Israel to addressing the wider community:

“Listen you peoples from far away…” 

Isaiah goes on to speak as a representative of the people of Israel.  He describes how God has called the people from before they were even born and how God has made their mouths like a sharpened sword and their lives like a polished arrow.

Israel

This nation that has been decimated, divided, driven into exile and slavery…  This nation is a polished arrow?  This nation’s words a sharpened sword?

They hardly feel like a mighty weapon.

They feel rather pitiful.

But Isaiah is inviting them to widen their gaze.

 

If they look only on their own misfortunes and feeling of disorientation, estrangement, and dispossession, they feel rather pathetic.  Some would say they have lost the love of God altogether to be experiencing this misfortune.  They feel like they’ve failed, like everything has been in vain.  But Isaiah is inviting them to see how their lives interface with the lives of the nations.  God did not call them and prepare them just for their own people’s sake.  God’s instructions to be set apart was not because God loved them and hated others.  God indeed loved them!  But God also loved the world, and had a plan for the people of Israel, that they might become the Light of God to the world!

God says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

 

While they are focused on their own misfortunes, they are missing the entire point, because God’s will is still playing out.  God is still on the throne.  God is still working their lives for good.  And God has much higher work for this war-torn nation:  they are to bring light and salvation to the entire world! 

Isaiah invites them to widen their gaze.  The prophet invites them to trust that even this misfortune is within God’s loving hands, and that even though they feel defeated, God is in fact being glorified through them – in all the earth!

Isaiah presents a shocking re-frame of all their suffering, all their angst and pain.  For all their feelings of decimation, GOD is in control, and GOD is working through them still.

While they are the abhorred of the nations now, while they are despised and rejected ones now, while they are the slaves of rulers now,…

“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Because of God’s working in them, because of God’s choosing them, because of God’s faithfulness to them, even though they are despised and hated and enslaved now, they will be revered, they will be honored, they will be respected…because they will bring light and salvation to the ends of the earth.

 

The people of Israel are part of God’s bigger story.

The people have not been abandoned.

They have not been disinherited.

They are not forgotten – far from it!

God is weaving a tapestry of salvation and light for the whole world,

and they are at the heart of the story. 

 

 

And so, for all of you today who are feeling cut off…

For all you who feel forgotten…

For all of you who misfortune, heartache, and headache on all sides…

 

This Word is for you.

 

Like God was working through the chosen people of Israel so long ago, God is working through people all over the world, today.  And it’s bigger than the original people of Israel, for Jesus Christ has adopted us into the family of God, grafting our branches onto God’s family tree.  The family of God is no longer defined by race or nationality.  It is no longer defined merely by blood.  It is defined by God’s love, which broke down every dividing wall and fence.

God is accomplishing what God set out to do all those years ago – to spread God’s light and salvation over all the globe.

And every heart that believes and receives God’s unfathomable love is grafted onto God’s family tree, is adopted into the family.  God’s family keep growing and growing.  God’s light shines deeper and further.  God’s salvation and hope is spreading.  You and I are a part of God’s love in this world.  Like the Israelites long ago, you and I are part of God’s story of unstoppable love. 

 

So if you find trouble closing in all around…  If tears have been your food…  If you’ve lost too much, and hurt too badly, and suffered long, hear these words of Jesus from his sermon on the mount, the Message translation:

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding.

You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry.
Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.

You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.

 “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me… You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.

 

You, dear ones, are in good company.  For God’s people through-out history have known trial and tribulation, yet none of that has de-railed God’s redemptive work, God’s light and life.  And none of that will separate us from God’s love.

 

You are loved.

God is with you.

You are light.

“From Death to Life, Destruction to Construction”

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

 

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!


 

While in Jerusalem this past spring, I was amazed at just how many different people actually do flock to that city.  People of so many different faiths come to seek God. It was truly a melting pot, like none I’ve ever witnessed before.   For all the hyper-militant, negative images of Israel we hear in the news, I found it to be one of the most tolerant places I have ever been.

The streets are narrow.  The traffic is immense.  Many of the residents and visitors are devotedly faithful and diligent in following various religious laws and observances.  Jerusalem and all of Israel has a challenge like few other nations have.  The faith of many of its residents prohibits them from eating various foods, dressing in various clothing, associating with various people, working on various days, and even touching folks of the opposite gender.  How does one make room in such a crowded and diverse city for this faithful difference?

Unlike America where we segregate by neighborhoods and suburbs, churches and schools, in Israel there is truly no space to be had between groups.  They also have various quarters of the city for predominantly Christian, predominantly Armenian, predominantly Muslim and Arabic, and predominantly Orthodox, but these exist shoulder to shoulder.  It is impossible to navigate Jerusalem without rubbing shoulders with all these people – many of whom have very widely differing and fiercely held views and ways of living.

Tolerance is not merely an ideal held.  Tolerance is a routine exercised with every passing day.  At certain times you give up your rights to do something, so others can do it in the way they see fit.  And then they give up their rights at other times for you.  There is an ever-present social and ethnic agility in living in the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

We got to speak with a former general who worked on the wall that divides Israel and Palestine.  All my strongly held, uninformed beliefs melted away, as I listened to how this soul sought to navigate what it meant to secure a country so diverse and so despised in the middle east.

Especially fascinating to me was his story of how they designed technology to sniff out explosives.  Their airport is always on high security, as they are viewed by most of their geographic neighbors as intruders and infidels profaning their holy area.  There is a word for this concept, but it escapes me at present.  Since Israel is on so many people’s black list, they have had develop new technologies and to exercise more vigilance to prevent war and their own genocide.

They needed a way to detect non-metal explosives.  But the best way is using dogs, and dogs are widely seen as unclean and offensive in Arabic culture.  If they have dogs walking the airport or manning the check-in locations, they will cause great offense.  And so they developed technology where they funnel travelers through a maze area and vacuum the air from that maze into a room where the dogs are.  And this works!  They are able to flag non-metal explosives moving through the airport – without creating offense.

 

How many of you would go through that added trouble to trying not to cause offense?

How many of us have developed new systems and technologies, all to minimize offense to a minority group?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect that group to suck it up and understand?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect them to bend to the majority’s or the powerfuls’ preferences?

I don’t think we would have designed such technology in America.  Here I’d been judging Israel for so many years as being intolerant, and it was in Israel that I was seeing tolerance lived out more tangibly than I’d ever seen it before.

 

Now I speak of my own awakening and bits of transformation in Israel, while understanding that there is far more at play there than I could ever see or perceive.  No one side of these entrenched battles is wholly correct.  But I found God putting my ignorance and judgement in check.  And it is a good feeling when our facades and false narratives begin to fall away in the light of truth.

 

I bring up my experience in Israel because in the passage from Isaiah today, we read of a time when all shall flock to Israel.  It will be lifted up truly as a city on a hill, and God will make all things right in light of the truth.  No longer will nation be lifted up against nation.  No longer will swords and guns, bombs and missiles, drones and flaming tires be raised against one another.  But rather, all our weapons of mass destruction will be repurposed into generative, life-sustaining, food-growing tools.

 

What hope.  In a land that has not known peace, there will be peace.

Can you imagine?

 

This passage from the Old Testament speaks of a time when Israel will fulfill its purpose and the Kingdom of God will reign in hearts and minds, families and communities, tribes and nations.  It is a wonderful vision, and what amazed me was how much of this has already begun.

People already stream to the holy land.  People come from far and wide to meet with God and be transformed in Israel and the Old City.  And the vast majority of these people of differing faiths and backgrounds, values and ways of life, somehow have learned a way to live in remarkable harmony, for all their diversity, rubbing of shoulders, and bumping into one another.

This prophecy has already begun coming true in Israel and in pockets all around the globe.

And yet, more than ever, we still cry out to God asking, “How long, O Lord!?!”  We still witness injustice and suffering.  We will watch as nation rises up against nation.

 

And so Isaiah’s words are also for us.

 

There will come a time when nation will no longer rise up against nation.  God will live among us and be our judge.  Swords and missiles, bombs and drones will be destructed to create tools for growing the food that sustains us all.

Can you imagine??

On a hill just outside the Old City of Jerusalem is a monument with the verse Isaiah 2:4 inscribed in Hebrew.  It reads,

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

And just below are old iron weapons of warfare that are being misshapen and made into wheels and plows for tilling the earth.

This is the photo featured above.

 

 

I want to leave you with a song.  It is by an American Jew raised in NY.  Though strictly raised, he rebelled against his upbringing and faith at a young age.  But his journey away also led him back, and his faith matured and became his own.  He sings a song with a vision much like Isaiah’s.

I invite you to look it up and listen, reading the words here.  Let us join together in praying for this day to comewhere we shall no longer make war anymore.

 

One Day
Matisyahu

Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I’m breathing
Then I pray
Don’t take me soon
‘Cause I am here for a reason

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

It’s not about
Win or lose
‘Cause we all lose
When they feed on the souls of the innocent
Blood-drenched pavement
Keep on moving though the waters stay raging

In this maze you can lose your way (your way)
It might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you, no way (no way)

Sometimes in my tears I drown (I drown)
But I never let it get me down (get me down)
So when negativity surrounds (surrounds)
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate

One day we’ll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like
One day [4x]

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Colossians 1:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

 

Colossians 1:9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 10:25-37

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


 

What do we do when we want to get out of something?  We argue over semantics.

In this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke lets us into the mind of the lawyer.  He says that the lawyer asked this question of Jesus in order to test him.  So we likely have a skeptic here.  He is unsure about Jesus.  Perhaps he is vetting Jesus, to see what Jesus knows.  As a lawyer, he is trained to think critically about a matter.  Perhaps this is his way of discerning whether or not this Jesus is to be trusted.  Or perhaps he simply wants to trap Jesus.  We do not know the lawyer’s reasons for this test, but he stands and poses this question to Jesus to test him.

And what does Jesus do?  In infinite wisdom, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer.  Now the lawyer is the one being tested.  If he doesn’t answer, it will make him look bad.  This takes away whatever leverage the lawyer thought he had over Jesus – posing this question as a test – and turns it back onto him.  Isn’t this what Jesus speaks of when he says, “the measure you give, will be the measure you get”?

Now of course the lawyers question, being the test that it is, is a question the lawyer knows the answer to – otherwise how would he be able to “test” Jesus based on his answer.  …And that is revealing.  If the lawyer already knows the answer, he is surely not asking the question out of an earnest desire to know the truth.  And that is perhaps what separates him from so many of those who approach Jesus.  This lawyer wasn’t approaching Jesus out of earnest desire to know the truth and to do good.  No.  He has other motivations.

So when the lawyer answers Jesus correctly.  Jesus affirms him saying, “You have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live.”  Notice, it is not enough to know the right answers.  The lawyer knows that right answer, but that is not the important thing.  What is important is what the lawyer then DOES with his knowledge:  does he put this knowledge into practice.

Now, since the lawyer is not asking the question out of a sincere desire to know, it is also unlikely the lawyer truly cares about doing this commandment.  And the lawyers next question to Jesus seems to press this point.  He asks, “And who is my neighbor?”  And this is why I asked, “What do we do when we want to get out of doing something?”  It seems clear to me that this lawyer is looking for a loophole …because he begins to nitpick the semantics:  “who is my neighbor.”

 

Now part of me truly gets this.  If I know that something hard is being required of me, I also will ask the nitty gritty questions.  If I am going to start a journey down a hard road, I first want to get my reasons, goals, and objectives clear.  I want to know that I understand the mandate.

But I do think it is more likely the lawyer is looking for a loophole.  Luke explains the lawyer’s question saying, “Wanting to justify himself, he asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’”

As we all do at times, this lawyer appears to be wanting to defend himself.  We can all instantly think of many, many times we have failed to love others as we love ourselves.  But we also usually have our reasons.  So does God see our reasons and approve?

And to this question, Jesus responds with a parable, the parable of the good Samaritan.

Notice the word “good.”  Nowhere in the story appears the word “good.”  Jesus does not qualify THIS Samaritan as good, with respect to the all the other Samaritans.  No.  We have qualified this Samaritan as good.  People through-out Christian history have put that qualifier on this Samaritan.

No, Jesus simply tells a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a road.  Two folks pass by this man.  They are the ones everyone expects to be good:  the priest, the Levite.  But they do not help.  In fact, they go so far as to cross the road to avoid him.   And in juxtaposition to these “holy” men of Israel, a Samaritan man comes upon the wounded man and is moved with pity for him.  As you may have heard, Samaritans were viewed by Israelites as unclean and unholy.  They were definitely seen as second-class humans in Jesus’ time.  So to have Jesus tell this story in which the Israelite spiritual leaders have become the disappointments and a Samaritan has become the hero…well it explains how this story got it’s qualifier, “good.”  Because folks in Jesus’ day would have been shocked to hear of a Samaritan who was being lifted up for Israelites as their moral example.  THIS must have been a gooood Samaritan!

 

Anyway, the Samaritan tended to the wounded man, using his own oil, wine, and bandages (that he had with him for his own needs) to clean and tend his wounds.  And then, he takes it a step further:  he puts the man on his own animal (that he had with him for his own needs) and takes him to an inn, where he takes care of the man.

And then we hear that the Samaritan needs to leave – well obviously!  He was traveling a road for a reason, right?  He needed to get somewhere.  But he takes it another step further:  he pays the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of the man.  And as if that would not already have been more than anyone could have ever expected much less hoped for, he tells the innkeeper that if he spends any more on caring for the man, the Samaritan will pay him the balance upon his return.

This Samaritan – labeled good probably by those shocked that a Samaritan could ever be called good – this Samaritan has gone above and beyond.  This Samaritan recognizes that any one of these actions will not be enough.  This man has been stripped of all earthly belongings, without family or friends with him, and without the physical health to help himself.  And so this Samaritan sees to it that the man is restored to the health he needs to get back on his feet.

This Samaritan is no less than a life-saver, a hero.

 

And this is the story Jesus tells the lawyer, to answer his question, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

The story Jesus tells goes so very far and beyond anything his hearers would have imagined.  They, perhaps, were wanting to know whether or not neighbor was simply referring to those who lived in neighboring houses…  Or perhaps they suspected, it was the folks in their community.  Or perhaps neighbor meant your nation and people; that makes sense.

But no, Jesus tells them a story that crossed borders.  It crossed racial borders.   It crossed ethnic borders.  It crosses religious borders.

Whatever borders they’d hoped to gain to justify their neglect of those they thought less worthy or less loved or less important…Jesus defies them.  Jesus makes crystal clear that a neighbor is anyone in our human family, even those outside our neighborhoods and churches and families…and countries.

 

God calls us to love our neighbors – all people – as we love ourselves…

And this is a steep ask.  All.

 

And so I ask each of us, myself included, where are our boundaries?  We are certainly not called to help all.  We cannot physically do it.  Even Jesus defined his boundaries of service.

But what I think this passage challenges is our judgement boundaries.

 

We will all find ourselves face to face with those who have been stripped of their power, stripped of their resources, stripped of their voice, stripped of their dignity.  And when we do, will we love them, as we love ourselves?

 

 

 

 

“That Not One Be Lost”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 8:26-39
Matthew 18:10-14

 

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

 

Matthew 18:10-14

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.


 

This story is of the man possessed by a legion of demons is wild.  It is alarming.  It is quite understandable that the townspeople witnessing this thing Jesus did, asked him to leave.  They were afraid.

Here, this man who they had known to be possessed – who had been naked for years, living in tombs, – who had been chained and under guard (for fear of him, I imagine) but who would break free of the chains and go into the wild…  THIS man, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, and in his right mind.  They knew THAT man, the crazy, naked, scary man,…but THIS man, sitting, clothed, of sound mind, he was brand new to them!

And it happened with such wild demonstration.

When Jesus was speaking with the demons, he had asked what the demon’s name was, and the demon replied “Legion” for many, many demons lived inside this man.

And then the dialogue continues.  The demons beg Jesus not to cast them out or torment them.  Instead, they ask to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs.  And we are told that Jesus allows them to enter the pigs, at which point all the pigs at once are possessed and rush down the steep bank and into the sea.

Can you imagine?

 

Possessed pigs…the sounds alone must have been entirely shocking.  I imagine there was an enormous amount of squealing!  And this uniform self-harming action of rushing off the cliff and into the sea – how entirely shocking.  Never before had any of them seen anything like it.  Never before had any of them heard anything like it.  Surely the Legion living in that-naked-man-to-be-avoided had entered the pigs; for why else would they all and instantly be compelled to hurdle themselves into the sea to drown?  And why else would this man – so long possessed – have his wits and will about him,…for the first time in years!

 

They had indeed switched places.

With a word, Jesus’ word, demons had moved into the herd of pigs.

 

Note how destructive evil is.  What a terrible, terrible waste.  What a terrible, terrible loss of life.  And what mercy Jesus shows this man, long suffering from demon possession.

I imagine that few, if any, still saw this man with the loving compassion that Jesus did.  I imagine only the man’s parents, if they were still living, could still think fondly of him.  Fear or even mercy might have possessed some to eve put this man out of his misery.  But Jesus knows a better way.  When Jesus spoke, demons and all nature – heaven and earth – had to obey.

 

Now, I wish Jesus hadn’t granted Legion its wish to go into the pigs.  I wish that because the loss of life was enormous!  And yet, had it not happened, I wonder if we would have understood the enormity of this man’s possession.  Would we be telling this story centuries later?  Would we have even been able to conceive of what Legion even meant?

This story reminds us that the world that we see and perceive is only a small portion of the entire picture.  Book after book of the New Testament speaks to the Spiritual realm and spiritual forces, but I sense we are not at all comfortable speaking in these ways now.  In fact, it seems we often do not really believe in a spiritual realm at all.

And while many of the ailments once labeled demon possession are now likely called something else, the fact remains that there are forces of evil and harm at work in this world – just as there are forces of goodness and light.  And there are many shades of gray in between.

And our stories are part of the arch of much larger stories.  The temptations and demons we face are not unique to us alone.  And our choices and struggles do not impact only our own life but the lives and wholeness of entire communities.  We are part of something much bigger.   Our choices can magnify the light or the darkness around us.  And the harms that befall us also impact our communities, for better, or for worse.  This man’s possession was causing havoc all around him and had been for many years.

While the townspeople were scared by the power they witnessed that day, what a gift to have this man restored to his right mind.  What love that Jesus chose to save this one.  As a shepherd leaves the 99 to save 1 lost sheep, so Jesus showed compassion for this man.  Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that it’s not the will of God that one of these little ones should be lost.

 

And this gives me great comfort to realize that even when I’ve burned all my bridges, even when I’ve exhausted my support network, even when I’ve destroyed trust…

OR when hardship upon hardship has befallen me, when calamity has been my bread both night and day, when evil has had its way with me, and I can no longer be found,

Christ still sees me.

Christ still knows me.

Christ is still seeking me out,

as the shepherd his lost sheep,

for God doesn’t want to lose me. 

And God doesn’t want to lose you.

For you are precious and honored in God’s sight, says the Lord.

 

Could we ever deserve such love?

Can we ever earn such mercy and compassion?

 

To be seen and known for who we are and who God has made us to be

…underneath the layers of what has befallen us and what we’ve become…

To be seen and known for all that we HAVE become…

And still loved, just as we are…

To be loved so much that we are disciplined – so we will learn to walk away from the evil that enslaves us and toward the good that nourishes us…

To be so loved as to be rescued from the evil this man could not be free of…

 

What love is this!?!!

 

What love is this?!

 

 

“The Beautiful BeComing”

Rev Katherine Todd
John 21:1-19

 

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Do you watch more Netfllix?

Do you talk up a storm?

Do you cry a river?

Do you run?

Do you scream”

Do you shop?

Do you garden?

Do you journal?

Do you pray?

 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Do you do nothing – and by doing nothing, choose to do something…?

Do you keep on keeping on, same old, steady on?

 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

 

I suspect that in times of doubt and unknowns, many of us reach for something familiar to comfort us in the time of not knowing.  And that looks different for each of us.  But I imagine, we reach to the familiar, to things we suspect we can control, to things we can know.

 

Early in my adult life, I found laundry to be one of these comforting things.  There is the smell of fresh cloths, warm, strait from the dryer.  I can sort them.  I can fold them.  I can put them away.  And I can make peace out of the chaos of dirty clothes.

I can do this.

So when work felt frustrating…

When relationships were turbulent…

When circumstances felt out of control…

I liked to do laundry.

 

Whatever your thing is, it likely brings you comfort in trying times.

 

And Jesus’ disciples appear to have been no different.

Having gone through the emotional Olympics:  pledging to stand by Jesus whatever the cost, denying Jesus, fleeing in fear, watching from a distance as they tortured and murdered him, finding him missing from the tomb three days later, and then him appearing to them – risen and alive! – as they hid behind closed doors, these disciples are worn flat out.

And what is next?

Who knows?

Christ speaks peace into their frightened state.  Christ speaks joy into their mourning hearts.  Christ says he is sending them, just as God sent him.  And Christ gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But perhaps like a still a bit unsure of what to do with this new-found talent, Peter announces:  “I am going fishing!”  And the six other disciples with him say, “We are going with you.”

They return to what feels comfortable.  They return to what feels familiar.  They return to what they are good at.  They return to something they can understand and control.

…but things don’t work out.

Despite their collective fishing prowess, they catch nothing.

So nothing about this comfort fishing expedition is comforting.  No longer are they unsure, but now they are also, hungry, tired, and frustrated.  And that is when the Risen Christ calls to them from the shoreline, “You have no fish, have you?”  “No,” they answer.  “Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some,” Jesus instructs.

They do it, and suddenly they have more fish than they can manage!  Realizing it is the Lord, Peters jumps into the sea and the others haul the load to shore.

The scene is everything comforting.  They have a full catch, food and provision for today, AND Jesus already has a fire going, with hot fish and bread.  It’s as if Jesus has literally read their minds and given them exactly what they needed.

 

While they were eating and relaxing with Jesus on the beach, Jesus speaks with Peter, asking him repeatedly if Peter loves him.  Each time Peter answers yes, and each time Jesus answers with some version of “Feed and tend my sheep.”

This gets Peter so irritated, because it’s becoming clear that Jesus may not believe him.  But I imagine Jesus knew this was necessary.

This wasn’t the first time Peter had pledged his love and devotion.  He had done so only a week before, just before denying Jesus 3 times.

Peter believes he loves Jesus, and yet Peter had led the whole crew on a comfort fishing expedition.

He was concerned with feeding himself.

He was perhaps retreating to the familiar, going back to what was before – not pressing forward into what lied ahead.

And Jesus is calling him out.  Peter is not to go back.

Jesus is sending Peter and all the disciples forth.

Jesus is enough for them.  Christ provides for their earthly needs – fish to sell, warm food to fill their stomachs – but they are to focus their energies on looking after the needs of others.  They are to shepherd God’s flock.  They are still called to fish for people!

 

Each of us is somewhere on our journey of faith.  And if you haven’t yet, I suspect you will reach a point in your journey where what you have been doing isn’t enough anymore.  Something is not right.  What you were doing was good for then, but it’s not enough for now.

You have grown.

God has been growing your muscles of faith, as you have followed Christ step by step, and your former ways are no longer adequate.

You are ready for more.

You are made for more.

You are called to more.

 

But the land of the familiar is so enticing.

Can’t you just be content again with what was?

Can’t you just stay on auto-pilot and ignore the call of the Spirit of God on your life?

 

Here we see Peter doing just that – and leading others to do the same –

And here we see God finding him with his head in the sand, and lovingly calling him to live his faith in action.

Peter’s love for God is not meant to simply stop with him.  It is not meant to have been a good story, a nice ride.  NO.  If Peter truly loves Christ, he will do what Christ would do.  He will reach those who Christ would reach.  He will love as Christ has loved.  He will live as Christ lived.

And Jesus is outright challenging Peter’s shallow, withdrawn, safe professions of love, and calling Peter to love truly, completely, wholly.

 

So what is God calling you to?

For some of us, God is calling us out – to dig in, to get involved, to put some skin in the game, to step out, to live generously, to love boldly.

For some of us, God is calling us to stop and be – to be still in Christ’s presence, until we once again hear God’s voice reminding us who we are and whose we are.

 

God is calling us forward – not back to some former version of ourselves, or our families, or our neighborhoods, or our church.  God is calling us forth – into the future where the Spirit will lead us, loving and tending to our fellow travelers, as Christ has loved and cared for us.

Let us take care that we do not retreat. 

 

But listening for Christ’s voice and following the Spirit’s nudging,

May we love God well – tending to others –

and following God trustingly into the beautiful be-coming

that God is creating

among us,

here and now.