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“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.

“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. 

“Claiming the Narrative”

Maundy Thursday
Rev. Katherine Todd
Mark 14:12-16, 22-15
John 13:1-17, 34

Mark 14:12-16, 22-15

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

John 13:1-17, 34 

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Fatherhad given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Do you ever fantasize about making things right?
Do you ever wish to be able to grab a hold of all that is wrong and fix it?
Do you mourn all that is wrong in the world?
All that is wrong in your life?
All the wrong that has been done to you and around you?

I often fantasize about making the world better.  Sometimes, my fantasies are ones in which I employ every beautiful tool in my personal toolbox to win hearts and remake the world around me.  Other times, I wish for God’s wrath and righteous judgement to step in and remove from places of power and authority all who dare to step in the way of God’s good and right ways.

We all experience injustice differently.  We all have seen things we wish we could unsee.  We have all been diminished, suffered violations, been held back from our fullest potential.  In one way or another we all have grown jaded about certain things – things we can’t seem to change, things that seem rooted in evil and injustice, things that are so fraught with wrong that to remove one wrong would only uncover another and another and another…

These wrongs.  These injustices.  These gross falling from the holiness and wholeness and righteousness of God in our world can get us down.

Way down.

Some of us have felt down for hours, for days, for years, for lifetimes.

We can watch as every glimmer of life ekes away under the weight of injustice and oppression.  We have watched as powers that be make decisions about other people’s lives,…our lives.  We have watched as powers that come and powers that go use and abuse our lives, our needs, for their campaigns, forgetting those on whose shoulders they climbed, after they have arrived.

So much pain.
So much injustice.
So much harm.
So much loss,
Loss upon loss.

And so we cry out with the stones – crying out for justice to roll down like the mighty waters and to cover the earth.

There is much that is out of our control.
Many things happen to us and around us that we cannot change.
Our hearts bleed and bodies ache from the brokenness of ourselves and of this world.

Where is our deliverance?

Jesus Christ too stepped into this world

This world of endless possibility and endless and pain and suffering.

Our Lord Jesus Christ walked a heavy road,

A road of painful awareness of ALL the brokenness and sin and suffering and oppression all around him.

If any have seen a life lost,

A life wasted

A precious life thrown away

Jesus saw more

Equipped with eyes that could see all that one could ever be, Jesus knew that extraordinary pain of loss, seeing life after life directionless, life and after life barely surviving, life after life trying to gain off the sufferings of their brothers and sisters, life after life trapped and caught in cycles and systems of poverty, suffering, and oppression.

Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus was vulnerable to all.  Jesus was not numbed or comforted by his own ignorance.  Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus could see all the beauty and tragedy, all the goodness and evil that stirred deep below the surface of what is seen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was more than “acquainted” with grief and sorrow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ knew suffering.  Knew sorrow. Knew grief, loss, and pain.

And so on the eve of his time of greatest pain, greatest sorrow, greatest heartbreak, greatest loss, our Lord spent an intimate evening with those who knew him best, breaking the bread of the Passover, pouring the cup, washing their feet, and showing them in symbol and in action what he was going to do and why.  He demonstrated love in service, showing us a new way to live and to lead.

And he took back the narrative. 

Because A LOT was about to happen TO him.  Evil and injustice, harm and brokenness were about to take him by the throat and try to choke out the life in him.

He needed his disciples to know that it was NOT a HAPPENING to him that was taking place but rather HIS OWN ACT.

He would choose to go with his armed pursuers.
He would choose remain silent.
He would choose to remain nailed to that tree.

But all that pain.
All that suffering.
All that injustice and flashing evil were not the authors of this story.
All the powers that seemed so in control.  The powers that took it upon themselves to condemn and to kill.  These powers were not in control.

No, this story was God’s. And Jesus had the lead role.
And afterwards, we would finally know and see that all our darkness could not quench the light.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our evil, could not overcome the good.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our hate, could not overcome love.

Love was writing this story.
Love was driving this script.
Love was pouring itself out,
without restraint,
without reservation

That we might know how unstoppable, unbreakable, unwavering, unquenchable is God’s love for us.

I don’t know about you, but I need God in this very hour.
I need God to show me again, that evil is not in control,
that our sin and brokenness don’t have to rule and control our lives,
that God is working all things for good,
that God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us,
…that there is hope.

I need God to show me once again that light is more powerful than darkness,
That goodness is more powerful than evil,
That love is stronger than hate.

Read this poem from Tyler Knott Gregson’s book, “chasers of the light.”

Mr Roger’s shared a similar wisdom given him by his mother.  Whenever tragedy struck, she encouraged him to look for the helpers. There are always helpers, she said.

There is always grace. God is with us, Emmanuel!  Not just when Jesus walked our dusty roads, but stillliving in the hearts of each one who will make room for Christ. 

May the power of Christ, living in us, reclaim our stories.
Our job is to diligently,
stubbornly,
persistently,
relentlessly,
find the grace.

“She Gave It All”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Mark 11:1-10
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Mark 14:1-11

Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

Mark 14:1-11

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

This story calls to me. It tells of a woman who breaks a very costly jar of ointment over Jesus’ head, unexpectedly, during a meal in someone else’s home.

This woman is unnamed.
She is not mentioned before or after.
She steps into the story, and just as quickly, she is gone.

But her presence in the story,
Her sacred act,
Her sacrificial gift – thought to have been her most prized and expensive possession… – it changes the narrative.

God is mystery.  We only glimpse in moments God’s working among us. We sense in moments God’s presence and abiding love.  We do not see continuously.  Our vision breaks.  Our faith has interruptions.  We find ourselves overwhelmed and distraught and distracted by many things…

But in these moments, when we see with clarity of vision…
In these moments, when we hear, like God is speaking directly to us…
When we find ourselves compelled to act…
When our hearts become pregnant with a word we are called to speak,
With truth we are called to birth into this world…
When every neuron of our brain seems to be firing with idea after idea,…
When we have a moment of clarity, of vision, of word, of power,

May we, like this woman, act.
May we speak.
May we initiate.
May we birth that vision we have intothe world.

I do not imagine this woman who anointed Jesus saved all her money anticipating this very moment.

No, I imagine she had very different plans for this treasure.  She may have been planning ahead for her own death or that of one she loved.  She had parents.  She may have had a husband and children.  She likely had sisters and brothers.  ANY OF WHOM would have been the likely recipient of such an extravagant gift. This was a heart gift.  It was for loved ones.  It was for the most heart-wrenching of moments…, of saying goodbye to one with whom you have shared love and life and joy and sorrow.  This is the kind of gift reserved for one’s most treasured relations.  It is the type of gift one gives with a full and aching heart.

And this woman.
This woman who has a name.
This woman who has a family and a story.

She uses ALL of this most precious gift, breaking the jar, holding nothing back, pouring it over the head of Jesus.

Can you feel the utter, logic defying, outrageous, extravagant outpouring of love???

What compelled her to give away her most precious possession in such an act of unbounded love and sacrifice?

This is one of those moments that begs for silence.  The silence that is pregnant with
the truth we sense without words,
with beauty we feel without understanding,
with holiness and sacredness that we know and cannot speak.

But this act of great love
Moved some witnesses to outrage…”How could she WASTE all this on a moment?  On one man?”

Indeed, she was not behaving logically.
She was not behaving at all.

A number of witnesses quickly surmise what she could have and should have done with her treasure…

But to this Jesus says, “No.”

What she has done, illogical, hugely generous, sacrificial, from the aching and outpouring of her heart,…
is holy.

She has stepped into the flow of what God is doing.
She has joined in God’s story.
She has prepared Jesus’ body for his death and burial.
And she will not be chastised.

For her illogical, outrageous, extravagant gift is
precious
and perfect in the eyes of God.

We can become masters at summing up and judging the actions of one another.  They should have…   They could have…  Why didn’t they…   Why would they…

But the true questions for us, are
What is God moving in us?
What idea does God have nagging at our hearts?
What words is God burdening you to spill out?
What deed has God given you idea for that you are called to birth into this world?

The true questions for us are not about our neighbors, our family, our friends…
Why they do and don’t do such and such…

The true questions for us, are

What is God doing in you? What is God doing in me?

Will we step into the flow of God’s bigger story?
Will we follow God where the path is illogical, where criticisms will flow, where the future is uknown?…
Will you and be found giving all of ourselves
for the One who has given all for us?

This woman will always be known as one who gave it all.

How will our story read?