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“The Oppressed Shall Go Free”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14

 

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


 

We have been following this story of Joseph – how he was sold by his brothers as a slave, how he was falsely accused and thrown into prison for years and years, and how he finally got out because of the way he used his gifts of interpreting dreams and because he believed God’s Word spoken through dreams.

Joseph was placed as something of a Father to Pharaoh of Egypt, and when Joseph is reunited with his family, he entreats them all to come to Egypt – to survive the long years of famine with him there.

And that is where they have remained….until the days when the new Pharaoh does not know them and feels their growing numbers and prosperity to be a threat.  And this is when we hear of baby Moses narrowly escaping infanticide – rescued from a basket among the reeds, along the Nile river.

Then we heard of Moses who – having fled Egypt after lashing out and killing an Egyptian, who had been beating an Israelite, and marrying and setting up home in the dessert – sees a bush burning in the wilderness and hears the voice of God calling him beyond his every excuse, to be a part of God’s liberation of his people from Egypt.

What a journey!!!

 

 

And here we find the Israelites on the eve of their great liberation – having endured all the plagues sent upon the land of Egypt, and bracing for the worst one yet, the death of all the eldest Egyptian boys in the land.

We have reached this point in which the heart of the Pharaoh is so hardened that nothing less than the death of his own eldest son, will cause him to stop murdering and enslaving the children of Israel.

What a terrible place to be.

 

Isn’t this how every war begins? …When the cost of doing nothing exceeds the cost of doing something?

 

And so this most terrible plague of all, the death of the first born males of Egypt – the pride joy, the economic back-bone, the seat of power – these young ones are struck down…

And it is terrible.

 

 

And here on the eve of this most terrible plague of all, God is instructing the people to be prepared.  …to be prepared because their liberation – long out-of-reach, will come (and go) swiftly

…for God knows that Pharaoh’s own brokenness and openness will be but momentary.

After his moment of heart-broken surrender, Pharaoh pendulums right back to his former position of hardness toward the Israelites and will send his entire army after them, a people fleeing on foot, from a nation chasing them on horse and chariot.

And what a staggering and terrifying position in which to find oneself…

 

All of this lies just ahead, and so God instructs them to eat up – dressed, sandals fastened, staff in hand.  Whatever perishable food they cannot consume is to be burned.  THIS shall be their new beginning – their first of months, their start to a new year…and a new life.

Their deliverance will come in a flash.
And they must be ready to seize it.

 

For God will free them mightily and powerfully, as those on the wrong side of love and justice, are brought to their knees…to consider the evil they have wrought and the lives they have pressed and taken.

A reckoning is here.

 

I am intrigued too at this verse in Romans today:

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The very point of all the laws that God would give the Israelites, through Moses, was love.  For GOD IS Love.  GOD IS LOVE.

…The point all along was LOVE.

 

The Israelites are called to be God’s embodiment of love – that God’s love might shine into all the darkest places, setting creation free in the knowledge of God’s own delight!

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.
LOVE does no wrong
To a neighbor.

 

Can we say that we have done no wrong to a neighbor?

 

We have taken moments to collectively remember our national sins of the genocide of Native Americans, the kidnapping of their children, and the stealing of their lands.

We have taken moments in these past weeks to collectively remember our national sins of the enslavement, of the oppression, of the lynching, of the discrimination, of the criminalization, and of the mass-incarceration of our fellow citizens and neighbors of color.

 

Can we say that as a nation, we have been on the right side of Love?
Have these actions embodied the love and deliverance of Christ?

 

When God again moves swiftly to let the oppressed go free, will we be swimming in the swift current of God’s saving LOVE?

Will we stand – fighting the current, clinging to our former positions of power and ease, comfort and stability – losing our souls to save our “lives”-as-we-know-them?

Will the flood have to overtake us,
Or those we love,

Before we let go and allow God to set God’s beloved people free? 

 

I know many among us have long worked and fought, spoken out and sacrificed, that the oppressed might go free.  I know many of you live lives that embody the LOVE of Christ, in so many acts of generosity and loving compassion.

 

God is alive.

And God is still writing the stories of history.

God is making wrong things right:
setting the prisoner free,
     giving sight to the blind,
     and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. 

 

Where will OUR lives stand,
Where will we AS A CHURCH stand,

 

When God swiftly rights the wrongs?  When God swiftly delivers?  When hearts and economies and powers must be broken wide open, to finally make room for the Spirit of God – just as the hearts and economies and powers of the Egyptians were to broke wide open, that justice might flow down like the mighty rivers…

Where will WE stand???

 

Our actions and inactions have consequences.
And LOVE calls us to account.
LOVE calls us to right the wrongs.
LOVE calls us to join with Christ in proclaiming,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Paul declares in Romans,

“…it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”

 

 

Let us pray: 

Holy and Mighty God,
Lover of Justice,
Protector of the Weak,
Deliverer of the Oppressed,
Lover of our Souls,…

Hear these our prayers. 

You have woken us.
We are awake.
We were blind, but now we see.
The night is gone.  The day is near. 

Help us…
to systematically
and completely lay aside every work of darkness
and to clothe ourselves in your love,
your armor of light.

 In Christ’s name we pray,
Amen.

 

 

“Others…in God’s Eyes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Romans 1:18-22, 1:32-2:11

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 

Romans 1:18-22, 32 and 2:1-11

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…

32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

 

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.


 

Can you believe the story from Exodus!?

If you hadn’t heard this story before, there are so many things wrong that are so wrong with this picture.

 

In a classic political move, the new Pharaoh does not have a relationship or connection with Joseph and his family.  So all he sees are TOO MANY of THEM.  He worries.  His rationale is this:  “The more there are of them, the riskier it is for us.”

Does this sound familiar?  Does this bring to mind today’s political strategizing, and political back-room talk?  Does it bring to mind profiling and even voter-suppression?  OTHERS are viewed with suspicion.  Scarcity is one’s view of the world:  more for you means less for me.

 

This is an age-old fear, age-old strategy….yet still so very much alive even today.

I find it alarming that this age-old fear still lives and breathes in us today.  After all, didn’t Joseph show the people way back when that we are stronger together?  Didn’t an Israelite boy, formerly enslaved, formerly imprisoned, save the entire nation of Egypt and beyond?!

And instead of being viewed as the asset that the Israelite people were to Egypt, they were viewed as other, as foreign, as untrustworthy, as a liability.

Does this sound familiar?

 

But this isn’t where it stops.  Of course the new Pharaoh has a plan.  And it’s not even veiled:  kill every Israeli baby boy, as soon as he is born.  Outright genocide, or infanticide more accurately.

It is out of this horrific time in Israel’s history that the baby boy Moses is born.  He is hidden for as long as he can be, and when it becomes no longer possible, he is abandoned – with great care – in the reeds along the edge of the river Nile.  His mother seals a basket with tar, places her baby boy in it, and sends his older sister to watch out for him, to see what would become of him.

Can you imagine this?  The heartbreak of a mother – where child abandonment is the most loving possibility?

I never want to experience such a heart-wrenching choice as hers.

 

But Moses’ life is spared by the compassion of the Pharaoh’s daughter, the daughter of the very Pharaoh ordering infanticide.  She is moved in compassion and decides to save this Israelite infant’s life, raising him as her own.

 

Israel truly has had a dramatic history:  so much strength, so much color, so much pain.  Can we take a moment here to acknowledge the depth of pain in their stories?

 

And in this one story, we have OTHERING, Xenophobia, Political Back-Rooming, and Infanticide.  It’s a play for power; garnering fear in order to remove one’s perceived threats from the playing field.  This is a move as old as time.

And it’s as fresh and relevant as tomatoes grown on our summer vines.  This same strategy is still employed by all our current, major political players.  Is it not?  And though our methods for the removal of others is not always so overt, that goal still in play.

 

America has a long history of OTHERING.  Those original residents of our beloved country were OTHERED and demonized – “savage, barbarians, uneducated, crazy…”  Their demise was rationalized – “we must save them from themselves, we must Christianize them, we must civilize them, we must save their children from their savage and barbaric culture.”  As humans we are so very good at convincing ourselves of the righteousness of whatever-it-is we want to do.

And so children were forcibly stolen from parents and communities.  And the people were outright, systematically butchered.  And then when the bloodshed ceased, America decided to isolate the rest of them, lumping them all in their infinite tribes, into a few tracks of land – without citizenship, without rights, without resource, without representation.  …to this day.

To this day.   

 

The earliest immigrants to America brought unpaid, enslaved workers.  And these persons were the human-power behind the building of this nation.  In our earliest hours of freedom from England and becoming a nation, these words were written and adopted:  “We believe that all men are created equal.”  And even as Thomas Jefferson penned those inspiring words, he worried that slavery – at the heart of the southern states’ success – would destroy the federal union, this new nation he had helped birth.   He intimately knew the contradiction.  His compelling words, those adopted as the heart of this nation, were not being fully lived.  It would become a crisis of national identity and integrity.

Once enslaved Americans were finally set free, local laws were passed to limit the involvement of former enslaved persons in the work of government.  They came to be known as “Jim Crow Laws.”  And these laws stayed on the books for 95 years.  During that time, persons of color were lynched en-mass and disenfranchised, with no accountability or justice.

Once Lynching and Jim Crow laws were finally outed, a new strategy emerged:  literacy.  No one could vote unless they passed a literacy test.  And in the Black community, even professors were being dismissed and disenfranchised as illiterate.  Just like the Pharaoh of Moses’ day, keeping people down was seen as critical to the holding-on of power.  The same goals, taking on ever-new strategies.

And once this new literate-only voting strategy got outed, the criminalization and over-imprisonment of an entire demographic population gained traction in its place.   And if one has been imprisoned, one’s voting rights are then revoked…

 

Do you see a pattern?

 

The holding-on of power has led leaders through-out time to grave evils. 

Scripture has documented this Pharaoh’s great evil.  It has documented grave evils of the Israelite people, of neighboring people,… and the list goes on and on.  The Bible exposes truth.

 

In our passage from Romans, Paul goes on to list all those perceived as evil or bad in chapter one.  Then immediately in chapter two, right when the whole crowd is saying, “Yes, THOSE people are bad,” he changes course and says, “YOU are no different.” 

YOU are no different.

 

Paul holds everyone to account for their sins – for NONE are without sin.

Paul knows how to meet the people where they are.  He knows all the ones folks despise and reject, he knows who the people judge and ostracize.  And he meets them there.  Paul speaks about all THESE PEOPLE, but he does so, only to then shine the light of accountability on the very people doing the judging.

 

After Rachel & Jacob’s son-switch – tricking Esau out of his birthright…
After Naaman’s wife-switch on Jacob – tricking him out of his promised marriage to Rachel.
This letter by Paul to the people of Romans is perhaps the next biggest switch in scripture!

 

Paul – ever the visionary pastor – walks the people into an honest look at their own indictment:  in judging others – they themselves are rightfully judged, since “you yourselves do the very same things,” Paul says.

 

LET US NOT repeat the mistakes of the past.

LET US NO LONGER other those different than ourselves.

MAY WE see other people as the assets that they truly are.

MAY WE choose to believe in God’s abundance, over the lie of scarcity.

AND MAY WE head Paul’s warning – owning our own sins and those societal not-yet-righted sins, and recognizing that we are no different than those we so often and so readily judge.

 

God has given us good guides, good leaders, good teachers.
May we heed their warnings.

MAY WE finally learn from those who have come before,
and regard others as God regards us –

as family. 

 

Thanks be to God!

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

 

 

PRAYERS

Iona Abby Worship Book

God of history, you share our joys and crushing sorrows, you hear the cries of the afflicted, you fill the hungry, and you set free the oppressed.  We pray for the end to all injustice.  Inspire us with the all-embracing love of God, challenge us with the sacrificial love of Jesus, empower us with the transforming love of the Spirit, that we and all God’s children may live and be free!

 

Spirit of integrity, you drive us into the desert to search out our truth.  Give us clarity to know what is right, that we may abandon the false innocence of failing to choose at all, but may follow the purposes of Jesus Christ.

 

Spirit of truth and judgement, who alone can cast out the powers that grip our world at the point of crisis, give us your discernment, that we may accurately name what is evil, and know that way that leads to peace.

 

Iona Abby Worship Book

Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives, as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice.  As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water, flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other.  As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us, renew us now in newness of life and unity of love.  As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb, hold us in the power and peace of your abiding presence.

 

The Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland

O God, since there is no distinction of race and origin, in you we are all one.  Empower us to break down the barriers that still divide us, so that we may work in harmony with each other and with you.

            Iona Abby Worship Book – adapted & expanded

God, write your message on our hearts,

bless and direct us,

then send us out, living letters of the Word,

for we are yours.  Amen.

 

“To Be Channels of God’s Goodness”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23

 

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.


 

Reading this passage from Acts about the apostles and early believers sharing everything they have in common, I am struck anew at how very, very counter-cultural this act is.  One could even say it is subversive.

We buy and sell.  We own and transfer ownership.  We own land.  We build and own property.  And back in Jesus’ day, even women, many servants, enslaved persons, and children were all considered property.  As capitalistic as we are today, there was an even bigger spectrum in Jesus’ day of what and who people thought could be bought and sold, owned, possessed.

Frankly the idea of a person owning another person causes a visceral response in my body.  I find it so very offensive.  Nonetheless, the culture and world to which Jesus came and gave his life saw ownership as a sign of wealth and power, much as we do today.

So when the disciples ask new believers to share everything freely with one another, to sell their possession and give to the poor, to hold nothing back – it is most certainly subversive.  It is a hard ask.  Can you imagine asking that of another person?

 

I cannot.

I truly delight in ownership.  I love owning a car.  I adore owning real estate.  I love the items that I’ve purchased or found and now call my own.  I love the memories.  I love the resourcefulness.  I love being prepared.

And yet the disciples learned a very different way of living from Jesus.  They travelled from place to place, without ownership, without provision, without knowing where their next shelter or meal would come from.  Sometimes they picked wheat and produce from the fields through which they wandered.  And sometimes Jesus asked them to feed people, when they themselves did not have anything on them to offer another.

But Jesus had shown them the power of this way of life.  They’d been challenged to wholly lean on God for their well-being.  When they split up to go and witness to the Kingdom of God in neighboring towns, Jesus had instructed them to go empty-handed.  They were to take nothing but the tunic on their backs.  And they were to rely, wholly, on the generosity of those they met.  Can you imagine?

 

Some in our culture know this way of life.

There are a few who also know not where their next meal will come from or where they will find shelter and rest.  There are some who travel without provision, wholly reliant on those around them to survive.  Many hustle in their own way – trying to sell goods or services to make a buck.  And others beg on street corners, traffic islands, and even grocery store parking lots.

We tend to look unfavorably on these folks.

They are not being responsible, we say.  They are mooching off the rest of us.  We are paying for their laziness, we feel.

We don’t know what to do when we see them.  Are they truly in need?  Are they a victim?  Are they victimizing me?  What will they use my gift for?  Will they use it for life-crushing substances?  Will they use it for food?  Will they use it wisely?

Our questions are left unanswered, as we each try to make up our own minds.  And this discomfort weighs on us, especially as we pass by those we choose not to help.  Are we doing the right thing??

 

And though these wanderers and sojourners differ in some ways from Jesus’ disciples, they also have enough similarity, that it behooves us to pay attention.

 

In America we have some exposure as well to a culture that did not believe in land ownership:  the Native Americans.  The earth and all its fullness is seen as a gift – not to be grasped, but to be received with gratitude and respect.  The earth and all its fullness is not for us to use and squander however we choose.  Rather, we are given its keeping for a little while, and it is our great and holy responsibility to keep it thriving for our children and our children’s children.

Frankly, this view of creation sounds far more in keeping with Christ’s manner of living than our own.  And sometimes, the manner of living of the homeless and wanderers among us, seems much more in keeping with Jesus’ manner of living.  Jesus was, after all, homeless.  He did not have money.  He was not beholden to the systems and powers that be.  He was not part of the economic engine, the machine.  So in this way, he was uniquely free, a freedom many of our homeless brothers and sisters have also known.

 

So where does this leave us?

I’d like to think that our society is just what Jesus would have designed, but I cannot imagine that is true.  I appreciate capitalism.  I love home and land ownership, but this is not what we see in Jesus’ own life, and as uncomfortable as it makes me, I believe you and I are responsible to God for how we life, be it for good or for ill.

So whether we own or use land, whether we own or use resources, whether we buy or borrow goods and services, we are responsible.  And our actions reflect, in some way, our levels of trust, in the good shepherd, with whom “I shall not want.”

 

We give lip service in the church to trusting God.  We give lip service to trusting God with our money, our goods, our lives.  But when it comes down to it, our actions most accurately reflect our trust. 

Do our gifts of money, answer God’s call on our finances?  Have we taken the time to be still and listen for God’s still, small voice speaking over what we possess?  Do we even dare open up ourselves to such a vulnerable position of listening??

How much treasure do we store up for ourselves?  When do we have enough?
How much toilet paper do we store up?  When do we “have enough?”
Isn’t it all relative?
Isn’t it all so easy to rationalize?

 

I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this.  I dare not venture to prescribe how much you should own or give.  And I think God’s answers and invitations to each of us differ widely. 

 

And so, I invite you, to be still before our God, and to listen. 

 

What does God bring to mind?
Who does God bring to mind?
Is there someone in need nearby, whom you can help?
Do you have resources you’ve outgrown that would tremendously bless someone else?

This process is for you and you alone.   Each person, each family, each couple is responsible for how life is lived, what resources are used, what is shared, and whether or not we obeyed God’s private instruction in our lives.

 

The early believers shared all they had in common.  They sold what they had and gave it to the poor.  They shared, wherever there was need.

THIS my friends, is the Kindom of God.
THIS is the radical way of living Christ calls us to.

We are to place our trust in Christ alone, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

And I am moved to read this now, because so many of us have been acting more like this of late.  Food Lion issued 1,500 $20 gift cards for school children in impoverished neighborhoods in this community.  Jo-ann’s has been giving out mask-making supplies free to anyone who will make them.  Reservoir Distillery here in Richmond is giving away hand sanitizer every weekday – turning their tasting room into a distribution center.  Celebrities are paying rents for entire low-income neighborhoods.  One is even paying for virtual therapy.  Another has started his own boot-leg broadcast called, “SGN” – Some Good News, and he’s using it to spread stories of hope and courage to lift of the community.

You have made masks upon masks for one another.  You have labored long over financial records and payroll sheets – to find and solicit ways to continue employing those workers who have served in our midst for so very long.  You’ve written cards and letters to one another, especially our home-bound members and friends.  Money for projects and paychecks has been provided, mysteriously, anonymously.  You have rallied to put up and fill a new Little Pantry on our church grounds, to supply the community in this needful time.  When various ones among us have been in a bind, you have responded with help, in time.  When folks call our office asking help to pay a bill, you fund an account that pays portions of these bills.  When folks among us need a ride to appointments, you have shown up.

 

Just as the Israelites long ago were not blessed for themselves alone, WE are not blessed for ourselves alone.  We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world – to be CHANNELS of God’s goodness – of grace and love, abundance and provision, comfort and care.  We are called to shepherd one another, as our God has shepherded us – to love and comfort one another as our God has loved and comforted us.

We are blessed in order to BE a BLESSING. 

 

So as we prepare to leave this gathering,
I invite you,
to covenant
– with yourself and with God –
to set aside a holy moment,
this day,
to listen to your God.

Generous and merciful God,
how are you calling us to be faithful,
here and now,
in this time.
Speak, in ways we can hear.

And by your grace, may we most surely be, your faithful disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Faithful Doubt”

By Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:24-31
Jeremiah 29:13

 

John 20:24-31

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jeremiah 29:11

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart


 

To all those tossed about on the stormy seas of depression who are asking, “where is my God, my Rock?”

To all those watching the suffering of another, whose hearts are burning with the question, “Why, God!?  Where is your comfort?”

To all those witnesses of injustice, who are begging, “God show yourself.  Make this right!”

To all you who cannot find an answer to your suffering,

To all you who are waiting for a miracle, praying for a breakthrough,

To all you who live with questions about your faith, questions about the Bible, questions about Christianity…

 

I share with you this hope:  The Story of Thomas.

 
Thomas is a passionate disciple.  When Jesus tells the disciples of his plans to return to Mary & Martha’s home in order to bring their dead brother Lazarus back to life, the disciples all seek to discourage Jesus from going saying, “Rabbi the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and you are going there again?”  Realizing Jesus’ resolve, Thomas rallies the others saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  Thomas is a devoted disciple.

When Jesus, risen from the dead, shows himself to the other disciples, Thomas needs to know it is real.  He can’t help but doubt.  His doubt protects him, because when he believes something, he will go all out.  He cannot follow this Risen Jesus whole-heartedly until he is sure it is indeed him.

 

For eight long days, Thomas is adamant in his unbelief:  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  …The Jesus I knew and loved was tortured, crucified, and buried.  If he is really Jesus, he will have those marks of torture and death.  Only then can I believe what you’re saying.

It can’t have been easy to disbelieve.  Meanwhile Thomas’ friends, the others are exuberant.  They are joyful.  They are no longer mourning.  They are excited.  They can’t wait to go forward, wherever Jesus will take them.  Thomas is still at the funeral.  He can’t understand their joy.  He can’t get excited about a future.  His entire hope was buried, and his friends are in different place.  Yet, Thomas stays with them.  When Jesus comes to them again, Thomas is there.  He remained in the discomfort of being on a different page than the others.  Without giving into pressure from his friends, he remained honest with himself and his closest friends about his thoughts & feelings.  He doubted actively, begging for a resolution, engaging in search of the truth.

And Jesus answers.  Eight days after He first showed himself to the disciples, Jesus reappears to them, while Thomas is present.  Jesus speaks directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe!”

 

Jesus answers.

 

Thomas asked.  He sought out truth, and Jesus, faithful to his word opened the door and came in.  “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Thomas was not lukewarm.  He was not afraid to take a stand.  He doubted out loud in front of his trusted companions.  He did not remain safe and obscure in silent doubt.  He did not trade his search for the truth for an image of piety.  He laid himself out on the line in honesty, in search of the truth.

Thomas finds what he is searching for.

 

Jesus, bearing the marks of death, yet alive, comes to him.  Jesus returns to answer this disciple’s passionate doubt.  Jesus comes that Thomas might passionately believe.  Thomas is blown away.  He worships Jesus:  “My Lord, and my God.”

Thomas is remembered to this day, as “doubting Thomas.”  But his story does not end in doubt.  His story ends in bold worship.  He asked.  God answered.  And he believed.

 

In Christian communities today, it is not popular to doubt.  Many of us tidy up our spiritual lives by packing and sometimes shoving our doubts into closets, where we hope they will remain hidden and forgotten.  Thomas shows us a radically different way to handle our doubts.   Thomas doubted OUT – LOUD.  It takes courage to doubt as Thomas did.

 

 

Today I want to share with you a song by Rich Mullins, a contemporary Christian artist who doubted like Thomas did.

Rich Mullins was a Christian Musical Artist of our time.  He wrote treasured songs such as Awesome God, and Step by Step.  He is known for his beautifully poetic and prophetic lyrics.  His songs were like landscapes:  vast and breathtaking while intimate and detailed.  He loved God dearly, and his music reflected both the complexity and the simplicity of life.  He is respected both for his musical contribution and his life of service to Christ.

Though he produced 9 highly acclaimed Christian music albums, Rich was notorious for never having any money.  Bob Thornton (KTLI Wichita) writes : “Rich used to come into the station quite a bit. He had friends who worked here and all of us knew him, so he would drop in when he was in town. He would just walk in the lobby and call out to any staff that was around, ‘Who wants to go to lunch? I haven’t got any money!’ That was Rich. He never had any money…”  He made a lot, and he gave it all way, literally.   Amy Grant said of Rich that “He was the uneasy conscience of Christian music.”  She explained that Rich had taken a vow of poverty.”

In 1995, after completing a degree in music education, Rich pursued one of his greatest dreams and moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico to teach music to children on Native American Reservations.  Many such reservations could not afford to offer music classes in school.  Rich wanted the children to be blessed from God with music.  He wanted to bring the hope of Christ to the Native American reservation.

Though revered in many Christian circles, Rich strived to be honest with his doubts and struggles.  He did not bow to pressures to appear flawless.  Rather he humbled himself and was honest about the nitty gritty of life.  When he doubted, he doubted OUT LOUD, and when he believed, he believed OUT LOUD!

 

About his last recording, the Jesus record, a friend wrote:

For several years Rich had talked about making an album that would unfold the Jesus that we quickly gloss over on our way to church or Christian concerts. He wanted us to see the raw, rough Jesus who had dirty fingernails and who hung out with all the wrong people and loved them just as they were. It was a record, he said, that was “needed,” because for too many of us, Jesus had become domesticated, ordinary, and predictable. And necessary because those who believed Jesus to be otherwise often felt abandoned and alone in their convictions. Such was the nature of Rich’s work: he sought to at once challenge and heal, stir and to comfort, agitate and settle.

In September 1997, Rich sat down in an old, abandoned church, and, using a borrowed cassette recorder, recorded a demo tape for his new album.  The song, Hard to Get, is first on the recording, and it is one of Rich’s most explicit songs about doubt and faith.  In this song, the singer accuses God of playing hard to get up in heaven, while we all struggle down here on earth.  The song mingles knowledge of God’s love and mercy with the realities of pain and suffering.  It ends with a play on words in which the singer acknowledges God’s presence with him and concludes that rather than “playing hard to get,” God is “just plain hard to get.”

Nine days after this recording, Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert.  He left this world and went to meet his Love and Lord. Though only 41, when he died, Rich Mullins left a lifetime legacy of compassion and service to others.

 

I encourage you to listen to his song, “Hard to Get,” his demo version.  The words are below:

Hard to Get
You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath
While You’re up there just playing hard to get
You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then
Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?
And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

 

Let us pray.

Jesus, you amaze us as you care to answer our deepest doubts.

It amazes us that you go out of your way to meet us where we are.

May we have the honesty and courage of Rich Mullins.

May we have the faith of doubting Thomas.

May we seek you and find you, as we seek you with all our hearts.

In the middle of our chaos, depression, tragedy, and injustice, show yourself to us.

Let us see that you have been here too.  Let us touch your wounds.  Show us your face.

May we see your merciful eyes and outstretched hand.

May we experience the power of your resurrection in our own lives.

Lord, how we need your resurrection power in our lives.

We seek you, With all our heart.  Come Lord, Jesus, that we may worship you,

our Lord and our God!            Amen