Posts

“Love One Another Deeply”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 13:31a, 33-35
1 Peter 1:17-23

 

John 13:31a, 33-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”

 

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.


 

I am struck by the words of 1 Peter.  In the second section, he says that now that the believers are being purified by obedience to the truth and have been given a genuine, mutual, brotherly and sisterly love, they are to love one another deeply, from the heart.

In obeying God, following the Truth, these disciples have been given God’s love for one another.  Given.  Somehow in their obedience and following, God has bestowed on them God’s love for one another.  And this is huge, because how often to we struggle to love.  Is it possible that it is in our obedience to God’s leading, that we will find God’s strength to love?

This seems to be how Peter is laying it out for them.  Their obedience to God has lead to their being filled with God’s love.

And now they have a responsibility.  They are not simply to go along, come what may.  No, they are to actively and intentionally love.  They are to love deeply, fervently, sincerely…from the heart. 

 

Interesting, is it not?  I would have thought, that as far as God is concerned, loving actions would be enough.  After all, it is often our loving actions that precede our sincere feelings of love.  And doesn’t God care more about our actions?

I believe God does care more about our actions – certainly more about our actions than our words, our promises, our acclamations, or ascent.  Actions speak louder.  However, it would seem that God’s love does not stop there.  God’s love goes beyond action and into our hearts.  God’s love, when truly active and manifested, is active.  God’s love is intentional.  God’s love is fervent and deep.  God’s love is wider and more enduring that we can begin to imagine.  So our love does not even come close to the love of God until our actions of obedience and love are met with heart.

 

Our God is not interested in mere money.  God owns all that is.

Our God is not interested in mere puppetry.  We are more to God than vehicles of God’s will.  After all God made us and delights in us.  And God can accomplish whatever God wills – whether or not we ever follow, obey, and join in.

Our God is not interested in pageantry and appearances.  God is interested in the substance behind an action, a gift, a smile, or a sacrifice.  God has no one to fool or impress.

 

Our God came and went all in.  Our God was born into our midst as a helpless child, dependent, hunted, a refugee.

Christ gave of himself, healing the sick, seeking out the lost, feeding the hungry, raising the dead.

And when the time came, Jesus Christ walked that long road to Golgotha, allowing his blood to be spilled, his lungs to collapse, and the life-breath to leave his body.

 

Our God went all in.
And this God calls us to bring our all.

Obedience alone is not complete.  Love makes our actions complete.  Perhaps this is why we are encouraged to speak the truth in love.  Truth alone is incomplete.  Perhaps this is why Paul speaks about faith, hope and love: that faith, hope, and love abide but that the greatest of these is love.  Perhaps this is why Paul waxes about the gifts of the Spirit, making the point that without love, all the gifts are sounding gongs or clanging symbols – mere noise, obnoxious clutter, impediments.

And isn’t this our experience.  It does not matter how much we know; no one cares until they know how much we care.

Skill, talent, resource,
Wisdom, insight, knowledge…
None of it matters unless we employ them with love.  In fact, our failure to love as we serve, is actually an impediment to others, an obstacle, an annoyance.

Love completes our obedience.
Love completes our gifts.
Love completes our knowledge.
Love completes our wisdom.
Love completes our helping.
Love completes our serving…

 

God has called us to love deeply.  The Greek word also means fervently, sincerely, and out of purity of heart.

We are called to a higher standard of living.

God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit, filling us with God’s love.
And God then calls us to love on purpose, love in all sincerity, love one another deeply.

 

It matters…what dwells in the depths of our hearts.
It matters.

 

And so as we seek to know God’s will,
As we seek to be faithful, following God in trust and obedience,
As we live and work,
May we bring it all:  our whole self, our whole life, our whole heart.

 

God is glorified in our gifts and talents.
God is glorified in our obedience and service.
And all these things are made complete,
            As we love one another truly, from the depths of our hearts.   

 

THIS is how everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples. 

“Our God Comes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 63:7-9
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

 

Isaiah 63:7-9

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

 

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”


 

 

Can you imagine the journey Mary and Joseph have been on?

First Mary is confronted by an angel who tells her she will bear God’s child.  So she becomes pregnant and is totally at the mercy of Joseph and the society, for in that day women who had slept with someone outside of marriage could be stoned to death.  Her fiancé Joseph figures out that she is pregnant…and not by him.  He plans to dismiss her quietly – breaking their engagement.  But instead he is instructed by an angel in a dream to take Mary as his wife – that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

 

What a roller coaster!  Had either or Mary or Joseph imagined their wedding day, their marriage, conceiving a child, etc.,…they could not have imagined THIS.  The order is all out of whack.  One would hope to wed and then conceive and birth a child, but instead a child is on the way before they even are intimate or married.

Now Joseph has all the power here.  He can marry her, have her killed, or dismiss her quietly.  He can carry out his own plan, or he can follow what the angel tells him in a dream.  And he chooses to follow.  He marries Mary.

And THIS is where they might hope to settle down, find their stride, set up home, and build a life together, but alas, there is a census.  Everyone must travel to their city of origin – to be counted.  And so Mary, very pregnant, and Joseph must travel over hills and valleys to Bethlehem.

When they arrive, all they want is a soft bed and warm food.  All they want is a place lay their heads and close their eyes.  But perhaps they were slower on the road.  Perhaps their journey took a tad longer.  Whatever it was, Bethlehem was full to the brim.  There was no room for them.  All they were offered was a cattle shed out back.

And our very-pregnant-Mary goes into labor.

 

Nothing about their engagement, wedding, first year of marriage was going according to plan.  None of it was what they’d dreamed of.

And now, they were giving birth to their first child, in an animal barn out back.

But God showed up.  The brightest star shone overhead – as though God’s light was breaking through the heavens to pour warm light on God’s Son.  Angels broke through the heavens with singing – before the only ones keeping watch that night, the shepherds.  And when they took their beautiful baby boy to the temple to be circumcised, Anna and Simeon greet them with joyous prophecy; their son is the long-awaited one!  And over time, that bright star guided Wise Men from the east, who would travel long distances to find the newborn King and pay him homage.

Gifts and provision.

 

Confirmation

after confirmation

after confirmation.

 

The red carpet was not rolled out.

They were not teleported to their destinations.

Doors did not magically open.

But God showed up.  Angels showed up.  God spoke to them in dreams, in signs and wonders, and through the people around them…those who were watching, those who were seeking, those who were waiting.

 

And so we would hope that at this point in the story, they would joyously make their way back home.  But not so.  Again, Joseph is visited in a dream.  He is instructed to flee to Egypt with his family – that Herod is coming to destroy their perfect baby boy.

And again, Joseph has a choice to make – to stay or to go.  I imagine both he and Mary must ache for some normality, some comfort, some routine, some family, some coffee, a night off, some familiar…  But the storm of Herod’s fear and jealousy is coming like a fury.  And this precious family has no protection, except the voice of God breaking into their reality.

God breaks through. 

Joseph again chooses to obey, to follow after God, to believe, to trust, to place his hand in the hand of God.

 

And so they flee.

They flee to Egypt.

And God instructs them to stay until Herod dies.  Which they do.

 

Can you imagine?

 

GOD is doing amazing things.  GOD has come.  GOD is turning the world around.  GOD is breaking through, into our reality, into our lives, into the order and disorder of things…

God is breaking into hearts by an infant –

an infant whose tiny hands grasp our flawed fingers,

an infant whose wrinkled feet are swaddled in rags and laid in straw,

an infant who learns his first words following the faces and sounds of his perfectly imperfect parents.

And after learning from us, this infant would grow to be a boy anointed and a man full of grace and truth.  For GOD has broken through – through the hardened edges of our religiosity, our legalism, our nationalism, our egos and errors and fears.

GOD is breaking through.

 

And GOD is breaking through still.

And like that first Christmas, God comes still through the perfectly imperfect.

God comes when nothing goes according to our plans.

God comes when we, like Joseph and Mary, choose to follow God’s leading, God’s nudge.

God comes when we are seeking like the Wise Men

Watching like the Shepherds

Waiting like Anna and Simeon

 

God comes.

 

Will we have listening ears,

Watching eyes,

Seeking hearts,

Following feet?

 

Will you?

 

 

Get ready.  Have a bag packed.  Keep your cell phone charged, gas in your car, bus money in your pocket, walking shoes on your feet – for our God comes.

 

Will you be ready? 

“Spirit Poured Out”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


 

The Spirit of God is a great equalizing power.  Notice how the Spirit of God knows no lines of race or gender, age or power.  For all the lines in our world – dividing by color, dividing by economic means and opportunity, divisions by gender…or perceived gender, divisions by class, division by age…

For all of this, the Spirit of God cuts right through it.

 

I used to think all these differences were best unseen.  I thought that to love someone different than me meant being blind to all that made us different.  But someone significant to me once said, “No.  I am different.”  Being blind to the differences wasn’t the answer.  It made them feel less seen, less known.  Rather, seeing the differences and loving still,… THAT is closer to the answer.

For it is in the infinite space and differences between us where we find our greatest individual and collective strength.  When we open ourselves to learn from one another, we are all the richer and far stronger.

 

So in this world determined to judge and to draw lines, may we be a people who follow the Spirit of God’s lead.  The Spirit of God made no distinction.  The Spirit did not only come to the righteous, to the worthy, to those good enough.

No.

The Spirit of God has been poured out upon all flesh.  All flesh.

 

What does that mean?

 

Paul in his letter to the Romans speaks more to this when he says:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Paul says that everyone led by the Spirit of God is a child of God. 

Now THAT is a very broad statement.

 

In a world very divided – religiously, ethnically, dietarily, and on and on the list goes – in THIS world where some are considered property of others and a very small segment of society is legally able to own, buy, and sell property, THIS was a radical statement.  Because here Paul is not only saying that ALL FOLLOWING GOD’s SPIRIT are children of God BUT THAT they are also heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. 

These are statements about power and authority.  These are statements associated with wealth and privilege.  These are statements about belonging.

 

And so in this ancient text, fraught with the social structures and limitations in the minds and worlds of its many and varied writers, we have been given this radical ray of light in the darkness of the powers that be in the world.  You will know a tree by its fruit, you can discern the children of God by their obedience to the Spirit of God.

Notice, you do not know the children of God by our human labels,…nor by religious membership,…nor by perfection.  No one who has ever followed God has done it perfectly.  The Bible is excellent in showing us that!  But to be part of God’s family, a disciple of God, a follower of the Spirit of God is to be in relationship with God.  It is to be molded and shaped in fellowship with God and God’s people.  It is to be healed and redirected away from death and toward life.  It is to listen while walking in faith, and to turn around, when God says the word and you realize you’ve been going the wrong way….

 

We are defined in relationship to God.  THAT is what matters.

Not the labels

Not the names

Not popularity

Not perfection.

 

 

Our God has poured out the Spirit upon ALL FLESH!

The power of God lives in and among us!

The presence of God is here and now.

And God is all about us, in faces and places we would never expect.

 

But may WE be a PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW the Spirit of God.

MAY WE be a people who are defined in relationship with our God,

Open and ready to see God’s face and hear God’s voice among the last and the least.

May WE be a community that works to tear down the judgements and distinctions that divide and isolate.

MAY WE BE a community where the broad spectrum of beautifully made and utterly loved creatures may find their place of belonging. 

 

May it be among us.

“Forever Changed”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 5:1-11
Jeremiah 29:11

 

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Jeremiah 19:11

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.


 

What a fantastic Gospel story we read today.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has begun teaching in the synagogues and word is spreading about him, but he’s not yet chosen disciples.  This is that moment in Luke, when the first disciples follow Jesus.

Since this story differs from the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Matthew and Mark, this raises the obvious questions of which story accurately reflects what happened, and that is an answer I don’t have.  Both Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are almost identical.  That suggests that perhaps their accounts are more factual, but it can also simply mean they had the same source or that one of them used the other one of them as their source.  So ultimately, we do not have an answer to question of what actually happened.

But as is the case with much of scripture, I suspect the questions of substance are less about what transpired exactly in that moment and more about the truths communicated by each story.  As we’ve discussed before, Hebrew Rabbinic tradition cared less about facts, as we would define them in our modern world.  And as in all of life, every witness experiences things from differing points of view, even focusing on entirely different elements of the same shared moment.  They didn’t have i-phones, camcorders, or tape players.  So necessarily over time, stories – just like our memories – shift.  Perspectives would change from storyteller to storyteller.  What remained was truth.  And that is what we are called to listen for in these stories.

 

So here we have Jesus calling his first disciples.  It isn’t even so much an ask as a telling.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Come and follow me.”  Jesus simply states that from that moment forward, they would no longer catching fish but catching people.  And they leave everything and follow him.

 

Would you do it?

Would you leave everything and follow Jesus?

If you had been there, witnessing this life and love and hope never-before-seen, would you have left everything to follow him?

 

I honestly don’t know.  We have responsibilities.  We have rents.  We have mortgages.  We have aging parents.  We have children.  We have jobs.  We have obligations…

And so did they.

What made them so willing to step out with abandon into unknown territory following Jesus?

 

They have just witnessed Jesus teaching the people.  They have just witnessed the multitude in awe at his words.  Their own work wasn’t going so swell.  They’d fished the whole night, catching nothing.  And here, this traveling new preacher goes and tells them how to do their job?  Where does he get off?!?  I imagine they may have thought him naïve, arrogant, or out of place.  Couldn’t he just stick to teaching?  Why’d he have to meddle in their business.

Simon (Peter) protests, but says that because Jesus has asked, he will do what Jesus has said.  We don’t know if he did it grudgingly.  But it does seem clear he’s not keen.  After all, this was the END of their workday.  They’d been cleaning their nets in order to put them away.  They were done – hungry, sleepy, beat.  And here this teacher goes and starts telling them how to do their jobs.

How do you feel when someone purports to know how to do your job better than you do?

Have you ever been at the end of yourself and had someone say, “Oh, well all you have to do is do it this way.”

 

How have these moments made you feel?

What have they risen within you?

 

I can say that these moments have not risen kind and happy thoughts within me.  So while it is possible Simon and his fellow fishermen were eager to get back out and try again, I suspect they were anything but eager.  I suspect they were anything but optimistic.  I suspect the only thing they had going for them here was their obedience to Jesus.

And that is something.

That is something God can work with.  Obedience is a surrendering of sorts.  It places another person’s will ahead of our own.  It requires setting down our own intention and taking on someone else’s.

Obedience is hard.

 

But the hardest part of obedience is trusting that the one telling us what to do really knows what their talking about,…trusting that they know what is best,…trusting that they have our best interest at heart.  And this is why it’s so hard to trust one another in this world – because so rarely do others have our best interest at heart.  We tend to get caught up in our own needs too much to be truly concerned and aware of what others need.  Our own needs most often trump the needs of others in our lives.  And even when we do want to do what’s best for another, we rarely truly know what IS best for them.  This is why telling others what to do gets so sticky and dicey.

 

But this is also why God alone is worthy of our full obedience.

God alone truly KNOWS what is right and good and true.  God alone truly KNOWS what is best, what will work, what will lead to a future of hope.  God alone can see how one moment will connect to another.  God alone can foresee how everything fits together and all that is coming.

God ALONE is in a position to rightly guide us.

And in Jesus Christ, we have witnessed God pouring Godself out for our sakes!  Christ put his life on the line, laying his life down, all for our sakes.

 

In God alone, we meet the One able to lead us well. 

 

If we trust anyone in this world, may it be God.

 

I realize that for many of us God seems trustworthy for the big eternal stuff but perhaps not for the issues we face everyday.  Does God really even care about the stuff we are having to make decisions about every day?!?

I would say yes, God does care about all the decisions of our lives because God cares for us.  A God who knows the number of hairs on our head and the number of tears we’ve ever cried, surely cares for all of us, not just the “holy” parts of our lives.   Last I checked, hair and tears aren’t usually considered all that holy, and yet they matter to God.

That also means our finances, our jobs, our businesses, our decisions…

Our families, our households, our relationships…

Our everything matters to God.

 

AND God alone can rightly guide us.

Not only that, but God alone has our best interest at heart.

So we can be confident that wherever God leads, it is the very best for us.

 

Do you believe it?

 

Here Jesus steps into these young Galilean fishermen’s business and shows them that there is far more going on below the surface of the water than they can even begin to know.  Here Jesus shows them that he can indeed provide for all they need.  Here Jesus faces up against their livelihoods and blesses them with more abundance than they dreamed possible – blessing OVERFLOWING!  Here Jesus shows them that he is God and they are not.

 

And something clicks.

 

Life is so much better with him. 

How could they ever go back to the way things were before? 

 

 

May we meet the Living God in ways that bowl us over.

May we be obedient to God – following the Spirit’s lead in our lives – and SEE the Living God provide, blessings overflowing!

May we be so changed that going back to life as usual just isn’t an option

For we have met with the LIVING GOD, and our lives will never be the same.

 

Christ meet us, and may we never be the same.