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“No More Estranged”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20

 

Luke 1:68-79

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

 

Colossians 1:11-20

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.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.


 

This Gospel presentation by Paul to the Colossians is succinct & full of richness.  In it we learn that Christ was in the beginning – in fact everything created was created through and for Christ.  Christ holds all things together.  And Christ is the firstborn of the dead.  In other words, of all creatures who live and die, Christ is the first to be re-born after death.

So in every way, Christ goes before us – in creation, in death, and in resurrection.

And Christ is the answer to our entrapment to sin and death – for Christ has made peace for all by the shedding of his own blood on the cross.  So that now, we who were once estranged from God and one another because of our own evil deeds and hostile thoughts, we have been reconciled through Christ’s body and death.  Having taken our sins upon himself and overcoming the grave, Christ now presents us as holy and blameless, irreproachable.

 

How can this be?

 

How can we who deserve to be isolated and estranged from God and one another because of our sins and brokenness be brought back into the family of God, claimed and named and presented to God as holy and blameless?!?  This is incredible, almost inconceivable.

We have a clean slate because of Christ.

We have a second chance because of Christ.

We have a fresh start,

We have a new beginning,

And we have the love and forgiveness and companionship of Christ and our loving God, all because of Christ. 

 

Can you take a moment to imagine life without this belonging?  …without this forgiveness?  …without this hope?

 

I don’t know about you, but I racked up a number of sins, just in my youth alone.  And I cannot count the number of times my wife has forgiven me.  I have needed my son’s forgiveness so very many times.  And I am sure we have no hope of a future together unless many more times of forgiveness are given.

I am ever in need of this fresh start.

I am ever in need of forgiveness.

I am ever in need of hope and a new beginning.

 

I am ever in need of wisdom and growth.

I am ever in need of belonging.

I am ever in need of companionship for this hard journey.

 

Friends, let us rejoice in our God who has made a way for us – a way for us to live with hope.  For we have been adopted into the family of God by Christ our Lord, and we are beloved and cherished. 

 

May we let the reality of our adoption sink and settle into our bones.

For all that we do, every breath we breathe, every day we live is a gift from our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Friend.  Indeed as Zechariah proclaims – by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high has broken upon us.  And where God’s light shines, we will never be the same.

 

So Christ, break through our darkness with your light, and cause your beautiful dawn to break forth in all our light-starved places.  We believe, and we receive your gift of life and forgiveness and belonging.  And we don’t want to live estranged from you or one another any longer.  Heal us in your cleansing light, day after day.  Flood our despair with your hope and guiding Spirit.  For we are Yours.

 

“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?!

 

 

“BeLoved”

Isaiah 43:1-7
Acts 8:14-17

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.


 

In college I had the joy of studying the Bible and learning about God through various Christian perspectives.  And one of the most impactful teachings I remember from that time was to read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were to you and me.  Why?  Because we too are now God’s chosen people.  As believers, we have been adopted into the family of God.

This made Isaiah 43 one of my favorite passages.  Favorite because it tells of God’s utter love for and commitment to us.  God claims us:  “You are mine.”  And God speaks tenderly to us, “you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I loved these verses.  They helped me understand God in a more personal way.  You see, in my final years of high school, my home church had hired a youth director who we all adored.  She was funny and spunky and fun.  The Bible was alive for her, and she was opening it up to us, for the first time in our lives.  She used to always say, “Christianity is not a religion.  It’s a relationship.”  Of all the things she taught us, this was most profound.  For the first time, we were beginning to realize that the juicy goodness of faith was lived out in relationship with God.  And the way we best got to know God was by studying the Bible and growing in fellowship with one another.

And so this life-giving new path was opening to me.  So then when I learned in college that we could read God’s words to the people of Israel, as if they were written to us, so much more of the Bible opened up to me.  It meant that the Bible was overflowing with God’s words of love and promise.  And I was coming to adore this God who was everything needed, respected, trusted and yearned for.

Listen to these verses from Isaiah again, and whenever you hear Israel or Jacob, instead hear your own name.

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
hen you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;

 

This is utterly beautiful.  This is the commitment we may seek from one another our whole lives.  This is the commitment shown us by our Beautiful Lord.

 

But what I didn’t delve into at the time were the words about God exchanging others for my life.

After college and while in seminary at Union, I became friends with an Egyptian family.  The husband was also a seminary student, and our families became good friends.  They explained that the Bible is hard to read for them because it makes such negative mention of Egypt, time after time.  And yet these Egyptian friends of mine were also believers, and their families had been for many generations.

I had never before thought about those countries and people who are labeled negatively in these stories.  And here, right in the middle of one of my favorite passages, is a section about God exchanging others for us, for God’s chosen people.

And this was hard to digest.

 

First we have the trouble of being God’s chosen.  If some are chosen, does that mean others are not?  And why?  Other parts of scripture made it clear that God’s heart is for the whole world and that God came so that ALL might know God’s saving love.  And yet, there is this element of choosing.  What does it mean?

On the one hand, I love this idea of choosing.  Choice means that God’s involvement in our lives is voluntary.  It shows us that GOD WANTS US.  And that is part of what’s so beautiful about these words of God, shared through the prophet Isaiah.

At the same time, choice seems to imply that others are not chosen.  And these verses about exchanging whole other people groups for the chosen ones, seems to support that idea.

I was torn.

 

And yet, in the very chapter just preceding this one, Isaiah writes of the Lord,

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

A light to the nations.  God called the nation of Israel, took it by the hand, and kept it IN ORDER TO give them as a covenant to the people, a LIGHT to the nations.

So again, there is this idea that God chose the people SO THAT they might shed God’s light on the nations, everyone!

 

To this people who has been taught for so many years to avoid other nations, these hints throughout the prophets that Israel would be a gift FOR the nations come as a great surprise.  The people had internalized this notion that God’s choosing them somehow meant they were better than others.  But here, we see that God’s choosing them is part of God’s whole plan to save everyone.  God was keeping them, taking them by the hand, that they themselves might be the fulfillment of God’s promise, God’s covenant, to all creation.

The chosen people were the means by which God’s light would come!  Through them, a tiny baby would be born, of a virgin, in a backyard stable barn.  And through him, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, spilling out beyond the boundaries of the people of Israel and spreading to people far and wide.

We are here today because of how God spoke through and came through the people of Israel.  Through them, Jesus came into this world, and we have come to believe!

 

Perhaps this is what helped my Egyptian friends.  Perhaps they could hear God’s love for them and their nation, amidst all the negative press their nation gets in the Bible.  Perhaps they too had learned to read God’s words to the Israelites, as also being God’s words to them.  Perhaps their identities as Children of God had become the main identity with which they read God’s Word.

 

 

There is much in the Bible to digest.  There are mysteries that may remain mysteries our whole life long.  There is Mystery and there always will be, as long as we are seeking the one true God, the One whom we cannot ever fully know or understand.  And so our relationship with God will never be one of full knowing.  This God who we serve is far above and beyond all our understanding.  If we think we fully know God, then we must question whether we know GOD at all.  Our God is above all.  Our God is beyond our understanding.  God’s ways are not our ways.

And so we walk by faith.  We place our trust in the One who is above all and in all and through all.  We decide that this One who loves us with a never-stopping, never-giving-up love is worthy of all our praise.  We choose back this One who has claimed us in the waters of baptism and chosen us as God’s own.  We bind our lives to the One who came that we might have life and have it to the full!

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” says the Lord.

This is the One whom I have placed my trust.  With Timothy, I proclaim,

“I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”

 

With our faith and our doubts,

With our fears and our hopes,

In understanding and in awe,

In mystery and in knowing,

We come

Before the One who knows us

And chooses us

And loves us

Just as we are.

 

You are precious in God’s sight.  Honored.  And beloved.

 

Believe it.

And be loved.