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Kindom Unity

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133:1-3

 

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

 

Psalm 133:1-3

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Now this passage from Psalm 133, feels dreamy.  It feels like a hot shower, like a warm towel, like soft sheets.  This passage feels like a spread of delicious food, like time in the presence of friends – laughing, like the road rising to meet us…

This passage from Psalm 133 – about how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity – feels dreamy, feels exquisite, feels like a deep breath – because it is so entirely rare.  There are few in life with whom we feel this level of peace, are there not?

 

And do not get too hung up on the literary meaning of the word kindred – for our God has shattered our worldly delineations of family, opening the doors wide in Christ Jesus that all might come in and sit at the table of the family of God…

So, we do well if we recall the Native American concept of “all my relations” referring to the connections we have with all creatures and all creation.  For we are all connected.  We all affect one another.  We directly and indirectly impact the lives and well-being of one another.

 

And this kind of unity implies a harmony between creatures and all creation. 

 

What would it take for us to live in unity like that?
What would it take for us to be of one mind, and in full accord?
What would it be like to be of one heart and soul, as the writer of Acts describes the first believers in Jerusalem?
Of one heart and soul…

 

This implies an investing in the well-being of others.
This implies a binding of our lot to the lots of others.
This implies a laying down of race, of creed, of background, of education, of wealth, of political belief, of one’s own way…of control.

We lay down our very selves – our preferences & desires, dreams and hopes, fears and wants – trusting God with the whole, trusting God with the tiny, trusting God with all of us…

Can you imagine?!??

 

Each and every decision would be weighed by its impact to the whole.  Sacrifices would be made.  Love would be baked and cooked, prepared and eaten.  Love would be given and shared, broken and passed around.

Love would reign.
God would reign.
…God’s Kindom among us! 

 

But this is far from our daily experiences, is it not?
Not only is it far from our experiences in our neighborhoods, our communities, our city,
But it is far from our experience in church.
Is it not?

 

For all the love professed and often shared,
We also bicker and fight.
We keep score.
We take sides.
We remember perceived wrongs – telling and retelling and retelling them.
We grumble and complain.
We point the finger.
We blame.
…You know what I’m talking about.

 

THIS Is far from the UNITY Christ prayed for us at his end that we might have – by which others would know God’s love…
THIS is far from the UNITY the believers of Acts shared – pooling their resources for the well-being of all…
THIS is far from the UNITY the Psalmist writes of
…the kind that feels like warm fresh sheets, a delicate soft breeze, a meal shared among friends. 

And while some here are friends, others have remained perpetual outsiders, often uninvited to join in.  There are those who decisions are always questioned, their choices often doubted.  There are those whose ideas are not welcome but are kept at distance.  The inner circle may not be visible to those inside it.  But it is very visible to those outside it.

 

What would it take for church to feel good – like a delicious spread of food, or deep sweet rest, like a sigh of relief?
What would it take for church to be that experience of unity that gives us hope for the rest of the world, and our daily lives?
What would it take for us to be unified? 

How might Love require us to open ourselves, to make room for someone different?
How might Love require us to set aside our preference to prioritize another’s sensibilities?
How might Love compel us to bind ourselves to the well-being of one another?

 

What if our meetings were more characterized by excitement and joy than drudgery and keeping score?
What if Session operated less by Robert’s Rules and more by consensus, a coming together, a unity of heart and soul?
What if we stopped using guilt to try to persuade others to be more like ourselves?

What if church was truly a place we could try our best, mess up, and give it another go – in the grace and mercy of fellow believers – who too “go by the grace of God.”

What if church was truly the place where our society’s ranking system was laid down, surrendered, and “the least of these” are valued for their thoughts, their perspective, their insights and life experiences?

What if we can’t wait for church – because nothing compares to the welcome, the acceptance, the support, the encouragement, the forgiveness, the UNITY we know there?

What if? 

 

 

May Jesus’ prayer for us to be one – as he and God are one – be more than just words
…a nice thought
…a sweet dream.

May Jesus’ prayer be made real in us.
May WE become one – as one heart and soul –
…like fragrant anointing oil running down the head and into the beard,
…like the smell baked goods coming from the kitchen,
…a meal savored among friends,
…the comfort of your four-legged companion curled up beside you,
…like hot shower on a winter’s day.

How very GOOD and PLEASANT it is when kindred live together in unity. 

 

May WE know that UNITY
here
and
now:
God’s Kindom
among us. 

Halleluia!

 

 

 

“Heirs, by Faith”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Mark 8:31-38
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25

 

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

 

Romans 4:13-25

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

This passage from Romans makes interesting interpretation of the Old Testament Scripture concerning God’s promise to Abraham and his resulting faith.  Paul points out that Abraham indeed has no physical reason to believe God’s Word, God’s promise.  He is already 99 years old – “as good as dead,” Paul writes – and Sarah has been barren their whole marriage, never bearing a child.

Abraham believes God’s Word – not because his eyes SEE the promise in the making, not because he SEES the path toward this good promise.  Abraham believes God’s promise IN SPITE OF his circumstances – which would only serve to discourage belief, rather than encourage it.  And Paul writes that Abraham believed God could do according to the promise.  …Perhaps Abraham knew that God’s word was trustworthy, reliable, that God’s Word was as good as done – so faithful is the Lord.

And it is this faith,
this trust,
this belief,
this resting in the promises of God,
this trusting of God’s character…that is reckoned to him as righteousness. 

 

For the law hadn’t yet been revealed to the people of Israel.  Therefore, Abraham had neither followed nor violated these laws of God.  His righteousness was entirely based on faith.

 

And here, Paul makes the point that
because Abraham is made righteous by faith
and not works-
this promise is based on faith, to be guaranteed for all generations, of all people, for all time.

Wow!

This promise of God’s covenant with the people is passed down to all of us
on the basis of faith,
and faith alone. 

 

Thus, our forefather Abraham models for us all a way to God – not based on works, but faith.
And through his faith, we all are now heirs of the promise
– to be in covenantal relationship with God, blessed to be a blessing o’r all the earth –
by faith.

Thanks be to God!!!

 

This whole people-of-God, family-of-God promise
Begins
with a man
who simply
places his trust in God.

He believes God. 

 

What mercy!
What grace to have such a father in faith!
For faith is accessible to us all – no matter our wit or wisdom or experience.
For we can all choose to take God at God’s Word,
to believe God,
to trust that God can and will do all that is promised.

 

Indeed God has come near,
though we could never deserve it!
What love!?!

“For,” as the Psalmist declared,
God “did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted…”
God did not place impossible burdens on our shoulders…
God – our only rightful judge –
chooses mercy,
chooses healing,
chooses grace,
chooses promise,
chooses relationship,
chooses presence,
chooses sacrifice,
chooses forgiveness,
chooses…
to run
…to welcome you, to welcome me
back home, to our truest home…in God!

Halleluia!!!

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYERS

                                                                                    Book of Common Worship

God of our forebears,

as your chosen servant Abraham was given faith to obey your call and go out into the unknown, so may your church be granted such faith

that we may follow you with courage for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

 

Kathleen Fischer

May you face life without illusion,
but with gratitude.
Though you have known tragedy,
may you nonetheless cherish laughter.
May you have an ever clearer sense
of what is important
and what is not.
May your encounters with evil
heighten your appreciation
of what is good.
May you learn to meet death
in a way that leads you to celebrate life.

 

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav,
Poland (1772-1811)

Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
Among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things
And there may I be alone,
And enter into prayer
To talk with the one
That I belong to.

“In A Flash”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25:1-13

 

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

 

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour

~~~~~~~~~~

 

God’s justice comes in a flash.

Christ returns in a flash.

The presence of God sweeps o’r the plains and rustles the trees – most suddenly, without warning, a wind gust, unparalleled.

There is no weather forecaster, no siren, no text or facebook message

when God’s Kingdom comes.

No.

 

It comes in a rush,

and when it does,

who will we be?

Where will we be?

What will have our attention?

 

 

Along with many the Psalmist, I too cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

I wonder why God’s justice has not yet rushed down, like the mighty waters.

I wonder when a change will come.

I yearn and wait and weep and pray that God’s will may be done

on earth,

as it is in heaven.

 

But then what? 

Do I wait expectantly?

Do I watch?

Do I ready myself,

my life,

my time,

my availability,

my heart,

…my devotion?

 

Do I ready myself? 

Do I work for God’s Kingdom?

Do I speak the truths of God’s Kingdom?

Do I love as one of God’s own family?

Do I forgive readily and seventy-times seven, as Christ has forgiven me?

 

Do I ready myself?

…working through the suitcases of my baggage?

…delving into the shadow-places of my soul?

…voicing the questions and doubts in my heart?

…taking step after step of faith

growing in capacity and trust, endurance and faith,

day by day??

 

Do I ready myself?

Do I wake and ask God –

“What is your will for me today?”

“What will you have me do today?”

“Call me into your presence, and let me follow.”

“Speak to me.  Teach me, as one being taught.”

 

Do I ready myself? 

Do I learn the Word of God?

Do I meditate on scripture – sitting with it, reflecting on it, bathing in the light of God’s truth?

Do I ask God’s wisdom…to discern right from wrong, goodness from evil, truth from falsehood?

Do I ask and listen for God to direct my every step

…even as my heart plans the way?

 

Do I ready myself?

Am I swift to turn from evil,

swift to apologize,

swift to make right?

 

Each of these are among our muscles of faith.

These are the little things that make up our whole lives as disciples.

And what we do now,

either prepares us for God’s coming,

for the Kingdom of God,

for the Kindom of God,

or it doesn’t. 

 

 

And when God speaks, life emerges.

When God rebukes the wind, it ceases.

When God makes right – who can stand in the way? 

 

So,

Where will we be?

Where will I be?

Where will you be …

 …when God’s Kindom comes and God’s will is done,

on earth,

as it is in heaven? 

 

 

“As We Forgive Our Debtors”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 6:34-35
Matthew 18:21-35

 

Luke 6:34-35

If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

 

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

I listened to an interesting podcast by Radiolab this week that showcased the power and disconnect of words.  The interviewee had spent years in Africa and there learned that the word, “Seriously” means something quite different there than in America.  Here, we use the word to explain that we are not joking, there’s no nonsense, we are serious.  In Africa, he most often encountered the word used when a bribe was expected.  Someone would say, “Are you serious?”  or “How serious are you?”  And so he quickly learned.

Zooming out from his own experience, he witnessed John Kerry’s diplomatic statement in Africa, over a breach of faith and national cooperation.  And when Kerry opened the floor to one question from an African Journalist, that person asked if Kerry was “up there doing lip service” or if he was “serious.”  Kerry immediately sounded a bit perturbed, as he felt himself to be quite serious about the matter.  But this journalist was found after-the-fact and asked about his use of the word, “serious.”  And in fact, he was asking whether or not there would be financial implications – sanctions or what-have-you – because of the incident.  The word serious was referring to money…yet again.

 

This story was told to highlight the nuance and subjectivity of language, from culture to culture, from ancient times until today.

And this example so beautifully illustrates the same need we, as Christians, have:  to research and understand the culture and language of our Biblical texts.

 

Today’s reading quotes Jesus as telling Peter to forgive his neighbor that sins against him, “seventy-seven times.”  And this sticks out to us like a sore thumb because it is odd.  It seems so random:  why seventy-seven?!  But a closer look at the culture of ancient Hebrews reveals meaning, hidden in various numbers.

The number seven was perhaps the greatest power number of ancient Judaism.  It alluded to creation, good fortune, and blessing.  And reinforcing this belief-system, two Hebrew words for luck – gad and mazal – actually mean 7 and 77 respectively.  All things 7 were powerful, lucky, blessed.

And so this opens to us a much greater understood meaning of Jesus’ words here to the listeners of his day.  Hearing that he was to forgive his offending neighbor seventy-seven times would immediately cause him to think of luck and blessing, power and creation.

 

Could the subtle message then be that when one forgives, again and again, that such a one is blessed, lucky, powerful? 

Does this not sound like something Jesus would say?

 

Jesus was continually challenging conventional wisdom – debunking it, turning it on its head.  And here it appears he is doing no differently; people have always felt more powerful when holding a grudge against someone else, but Jesus is instructing that power and blessing come through forgiveness. 

That is radical.
That is world-altering.
This sounds like Jesus!

And then Jesus goes on to share the parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  This servant owes a great deal to his lord and cannot yet repay it.  Though the lord plans to sell he and his family, the servant begs for mercy – asking for more time to repay the debt.  The Lord has compassion on the servant and forgives the servant his entire debt!  But then the servant leaves that place and goes to demand payment from those below him, who owe him money.  So when the lord gets wind of it, he reprimands the servant for not extending the mercy he has received to his own debtors.  The servant was shown great mercy for his debts.  But the servant does not extend mercy to his own debtors.  And this decision to follow greed over mercy leads the servant to a worse fate than before…

 

And I am intrigued here because Jesus has gone from talking about forgiveness to talking about debts. 

 

Now in my mind, those are two different things.  Forgiveness might be for a debt, but it might also be for a lie or an accident or an injury.  Forgiveness is much broader to me; whereas, a debt is usually just financial.

But recall the language in our own Lord’s prayer – also the words of Jesus:  “Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Forgiveness is again tied to debts.  And so we garner a larger definition of debts.  The Greek word for debts refers not just to financial obligation – thought it certainly does cover that.  Debts also refers to something owed, an offense, or a sin.  …and thus we have the various renditions of our Lord’s Prayer!

So putting all these insights in context, we find Jesus instructing Peter to forgive, time after time after time, with the understanding that blessing and power will be his, as he forgives.  And Christ then gives them all an illustration to show that because we have been forgiven, we must also forgive.  We are called to forgive sins, offenses, and actual financial debts – as the lord of the parable has done.

 

And so what does this mean for each of us? 

 

Psychology has long claimed the destructive power of holding a grudge.  But psychology has not yet ventured into comment on the power of holding a financial debt, of remembering what one owes us.

In Luke 6:34-35 we read:

“ If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

 

God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
GOD is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked…

 

Again we have Jesus’ words, and again Jesus speaks about money.  And this time the meaning is not so veiled, as in the special Hebrew number 77.  Jesus outright says, “Lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great…”  Wow.

Jesus is speaking clearly about the power of NOT keeping a debt…even to those least deserving. 

 

It is easiest to relegate Jesus to the disembodied, spiritual realms of our lives, but Jesus was alive, flesh and blood.  Jesus spoke about hunger and greed.  Jesus spoke about sin and unfaithfulness.  Jesus spoke about taxes.  Jesus spoke about money.

And Jesus is stating – both in powerful, cultural subtleties and in direct form – that blessing lies in forgiving others of what is owed us. 

THAT is where power is.
THAT is where luck is.
THAT is where blessing is.

 

This message is still just as counter-cultural as it was when Jesus spoke it.
This message still makes us uncomfortable.
This message still rubs up against our financial strategies and wisdom.

But this is Jesus’ message:  forgive all those who owe you – money, an apology, a service – and see if blessing and luck and power do not follow you! 

 

The Kindom of God is made real among us
When we forgive, as we have been forgiven.

 

Halleluia!!!
Amen.

“Sin’s Obscurity and God’s Purposes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 8:26-39
Genesis 29:15-28

 

Romans 8:26-39

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Genesis 29:15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.


 

The fact is that almost any behavior can be justified using the Bible.  In the Bible, there is rape; there is murder; there is mob mentality; dismemberment; racial discrimination; genetic engineering; magic; divination; genocide; the stealing of land and possession; slavery; concubines; polygamy; royal, live versions of “The Bachelor,” stonings; rebellions; terrorist attacks; deceit; human trafficking; executions; child sacrifice; and even the sanctified killing of babies…

Now you may say, “Yes, but we know those things were wrong; they are only in there to teach us that they are wrong.”  And you may be correct.  But how do we know which is which?

 

In the Bible men are not to have long hair.  Pork is not to be eaten.  Women must have long hair and wear a head covering.  Women must separate themselves from community and isolate during their seven days of menstruation.  Animal sacrifices are to be brought.  Circumcision is a thing.  Animals are not to be cooked in their own milk…

The lists of do’s and don’ts are extraordinarily long.

And why?
Most of us would say we are now exempt from this long list of rules.
Why?
Because in Christ the old is gone and the new has come.
But this also does not mean we simply drop all the stories.  They still have value.
But it places a particular burden on the reader. 

And this burden is that of prayer, study, and discernment.

For without prayer, without the leading of the Spirit of God, our own minds and hearts can rationalize and excuse any plethora of behavior.

The Bible was used in support of slavery.  It was used in support of keeping women silent.  I has been used to justify slaughtering entire nations, burning “witches” at the stake, and it is probably still used my some today to justify polygamy.  After all, even this story of our beloved patriarch Jacob, we hear of how he takes two wives – both Leah and Rachel.  And though he did not ask for this, he nonetheless walked this path.  And this is a path so many of our Fathers in the faith walked.  Abraham had one wife, but he slept with his wife’s slave.  David had many lovers, including one he stole from one of his most loyal and honorable servants.  Solomon had many lovers.  …And these are only the examples we know about.

The responsibility of reading the Bible prayerfully – opening oneself up to God in a listening, in a conversation – is most imperative.

 

And then we must read it intelligently.  It is our responsibility to learn the cultures in which these passages were written.  Context absolutely matters when interpreting scripture.  We need to be able to take a step back from any one particular passage and begin to see the meta-narrative – the overarching themes, direction, point of it all.  We need to read enough of scripture that we can allow them to inform one another, to converse, to challenge, to be in tension.  Just like we are strengthened by those with whom we disagree, scripture is best heard in tension with other contrasting scriptures.  This is part of how we tease out and understand the deeper meaning.  For example, Paul says, “Women keep silent.”  But then he praises Eunice, who was a church leader.  Paul says, “Slaves remain as you are.”  But then he says, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, man or woman, slave or free.”

When heard together, these passages can be quite bewildering, but it can also lead us to dive deeper, to ask the questions.  And in the asking, in the seeking, God says we will find.

 

In my own seeking on these questions, I came to believe that Paul was both pastor and prophet.  He would, at once, see the end vision AND nurture the people on a path to get there.  The path and the end vision are not the same.  One is stark, the other gradual.  But in the end, both aim in the same direction.  Paul also believed Jesus would return within his lifetime, and so he encourages people to set down their own needs and to instead focus on God, compromise, lay down their own lives for the sake of others.  And while these instructions stand well on their own over the test of time, they also help us understand why Paul did not try navigating faster toward the final vision of equality, the final vision of family unity, the final vision of freedom.  He felt the time was short.  So he cut to the chase; “better to loose ones life and save ones soul.”

 We are called to read the scriptures with discernment.  Discernment is a coming together of everything:  prayer, listening, studying, comparing…

 

In our Old Testament scripture passage today, we witness deceit; polygamy; the possession, trading, and bargaining of men over women’s lives; and the possession and trading of enslaved persons.

Would you have wanted to be deceived as was Jacob?

Would you have wanted to be secretly switched out with your sister for a bridal night with her betrothed?  Unwanted, yet forced into the middle?

Would you have wanted to have your betrothed, given secretly to sleep with your sister, on your own wedding night?

Would you want to be the property of anyone, much less such a deceitful man, and then all of sudden given as property to his daughter?

 

None of this is good.

None of this is fair.

None of this is right.

 

And yet, God still speaks to us through it.

God meets us in the mess of the world – the messes we’ve made and those that have befallen us – and is present…in healing, in restoration, in mercy, in justice, in growth, in redemption.

And are we ready for the whole shebang at once?!?

Though I have long yearned and cried and prayed for God to make all things right.  If God did, then I too would be wiped out, for I too participate in societal sins – many of which I am not even aware of.

Will my children and my children’s children look back on me and condemn my depletion of this world’s fossil fuels, the littering of our oceans, the cutting down of our forests, the wiping out of entire species?…

Will my children or my children’s children look back on me and condemn how long it took me to realize that I am gay?  The fact that my lack of self-awareness took a toll on my former husband?  The fact that it took me so long to speak God’s words to me, those words spoken into my theoretical questions from Seminary 20 years ago about whether or not it was right to be gay.  Those words God spoke into my heart saying, “I have made people this way.  And it is pleasing in my sight.”  Will they look on my silence on the matter for so long …with indictment?

Will my children’s children be able to tolerate the abuse I bore?  Will they have compassion on the slowness of my own empowerment?  Will they shake their heads at how I silenced myself, made excuses for my abuser, put my own needs last, discredited my own emotions, failed to listen to my own heart and soul,…for so very long?

Will my children or my children’s children look back at the trash I created, at the possessions I owned, at the chemicals I used on this earth?

Will they look back on the segregation I tolerated, the privileges I received?

Will they look back on my ignorance to my own state and sins?

Will they look back and be able to see in hindsight all my flaws?

 

They probably will.

 

God is walking us all toward a more just and whole world.  Our rates of growth vary.  Some of us walk.  Some of us run.  And some of us lie down and refuse to move.

God loves us and all of creation.  And this love comes through in our continued awakenings, openness, growth, and change.  This love comes through in discipline, in turning us around, sometimes gently and sometimes most abruptly.  God gives us vision of the end AND paths to get there.  God has compassion on us, in our becoming.  God loves us, just as we are.  AND God is calling us to lay down the sins and weights that cling so closely and to run this race set before us – with intelligence, energy, and love that covers all things!

 

Thanks be to God for working all things together for the good of all those who love God and are called to be part of God’s purposes in the world.

Thanks be to God for not giving up on us – for correcting us as a parent who loves her child and running like the father of the prodigal son, welcoming his wayward son back home with great joy and gladness.

Thanks be.

 

May we fulfill the purposes God is working in our lives.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~

 PRAYERS 

                                                                                     Psalm 126
O Lord God,
May those who sow with tears
Reap with joy.

Thomas a Kempis (Germany, 1380-1471)
Make that possible to us, O Lord, by grace, which appears impossible to us by nature.

Martin Luther (Germany, 1483-1546)
O God, we believe this life is not a state of being righteous, but rather, of growth in righteousness; not a state of being healthy, but a period of healing; not a state of being, but becoming, not a state of rest, but of exercise and activity.  We are not yet what we shall be, but we grow towards it; the process is not yet finished, but is still going on; this life is not the end, it is the way to a better.  All does not yet shine with glory; nevertheless, all is being purified.

9th century Latin Hymn
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by Thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

Emmanuel, you have come to us.  You dwell among us.  You make all things new.
Come, O come, Emmanuel!
And hear our prayers…