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“To Empty Myself”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 15:11-32
1 Corinthians 9:6-2

 

Luke 15:11-32

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

 

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

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Have you heard scholars talk about the Prodigal son story before?

It has been pointed out that in the culture of this parable, elders do not run.  They walk.  They saunter.  They sit.  They wait.  Others come to them. 

Much as a Queen sits on her throne, awaiting the approach of callers and counsel, so too did the Elders of ancient societies such as this.  Therefore, the image of the father running would inherently stand out.  It would strike its listeners as odd:  what Elder would run?  …much less to meet an errant child!

It is the Elder’s right to remain seated.  It is the Parent’s prerogative to hold out on the son.  But this Father runs to his wayward son. 

He shows his hand.
He humbles himself.
He releases his power. 

 

And then looking at Philippians, we hear an echo:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

 

Christ humbled himself.
Christ left the bliss of unity with God in heaven.

He, a Prince, left his throne and emptied himself, coming – in the stature of a slave,
teaching and healing – with the humility of a servant, and dying – in the stature of a criminal.

In both the Father of Jesus’ parable and in Paul’s witness to Christ, we witness a laying aside of power and control. 

 

And there’s more!

In the scripture we read in 1 Corinthians, Paul expressed that he does not make use of his full rights in the Gospel – in order to make the gospel free and accessible to all.

Unlike the oxen Moses commanded to keep unmuzzled, that he may freely eat as he labors, unlike the priests who eat from the sacrifices brought, unlike the other apostles who have taken wives, unlike the farmer who plows the field and eats of its yield, Paul chooses to take nothing from the “fields of his labor.”  Paul chooses to work a second job for his living.

Paul lays down his rights to income from his labors of ministry – that by doing so, more may come to know Christ.
He does this joyfully.
He does this willingly.

Paullike the Father of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and like Christ leaving heaven for humanity on earthlays down his rights.
He humbles himself.  He pours himself out.  …and all for the sake of the Gospel.

 

And I suspect Paul tells the Corinthians this BECAUSE they are torn in dissension.  They are dividing into camps.  Each to his own – some are doing as they think best but without regard for one another.

Paul is addressing a people like those of our nation.
Paul is addressing a church like our own.
…for as much as we love one another, we also bicker.  We argue.  We rehearse our litanies of wrongdoing.

And to this people, Paul sets himself as an example to them:  he has a right to take much, but he refrains, for their sake.  He has power to wield, but he lays it down, for their sake.

 

And like the Father of the “prodigal son,” Paul can sit down and wait for the wayward, repentant ones to come to him.  But like the Father, Paul runs.  He traverses land and sea, oft in peril, to bring this good news to any and all who will receive him.

Like Christ, Paul does not consider his position or rights something to be exploited or cashed in on.  Rather like Christ, Paul humbles himself, taking the form of a slave – working for nothing – that there may be no barriers between the gospel and the people. 

 

And so what of us?

 

Will we humble ourselves as such,
Becoming all things to all people,
Going the extra mile,
Laying down power and authority, possession and privilege,
Running to greet those who, like ourselves, cannot ever deserve the unstopping, never-giving-up, love of Christ?

Will we? 

We are a litigious society, knowing our rights and fighting for our liberty.
But will we lay those rights down, if it means one more soul might know Christ’s love?

 

Jesus teaches us,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

 

Those who save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Christ’s sake, will find it. 

 

Will we
Lay down
Power and possession,
Privilege and authority,
Might and right?

Will we do so for the sake of unity?
Will we do so for the sake of sharing and generosity?
We will do so – relinquishing the reigns and making room at the table?
Will we do so – relinquishing power over the narrative?
Will we do so – relinquishing our will and our ways?

 

Will we release control over our lives-
Sliding over to let Christ into the driver’s seat-
That our lives
And our will
Might serve the least of these?

Will we release control over our passions
That our minds
And our hearts
Might drop what we are doing
And run to meet
Those

For whom
Christ died? 

“Teach Us to Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned lie a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

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I am so deeply appreciative to the apostle Paul for writing of such daily matters as eating food sacrificed to idols.

Now, I realize these aren’t occurrences in our day to day, but to me that matter’s little, for every time and place is contextual.  What matters more than a command or directive about doing or not doing something – is understanding the intention behind the command.

It matters more that we hold to the spirit of the law, than to individual, contextually-bounds rules and regulations found in the law.  Jesus often criticized the religious of his day for precisely this – getting all the rules & regulations but missing the entire point of it all.  The law is made for us and not us for the law.  The law is made to protect and preserve life, and not to squelch or stifle it.

 

The ancient city of Corinth had chosen Aphrodite and Poseidon as their gods.  It was likely baked into the DNA of city life, much as Christianity historically has been in America.  Thus you can imagine much social life centering around idol worship and rituals.  Animals would be slaughtered in dedication to the deity, much as animals were sacrificed to God in Jewish culture.  And like in Jewish culture the priests and people ate of the meat offered to God, so here in Corinth, the dedication would result in a feast and food for the community.

The question then becomes, can followers of Christ partake in the meal?

Those with deeper theological understanding saw no sin in the eating of food offered to idols, simply because they believed idols to be mere fancies of the imagination, mere works of fiction.  On the contrary, those without such theological understanding saw partaking in such food and festivities to be wrong and would abstain.

 

Paul sees no problem in the response of either group – feasting or fasting, partaking or abstaining.  What Paul however is very concerned about is that folks act within the bounds of their own conscience.  One’s own conscious will vary from one’s neighbors, and that is okay.  However, what isn’t okay is violating our conscious.  That is sin.

That implies a willingness to disobey what we perceive God to instruct us to do or not do.
That is rebellion.
That is the root of the fall – to do what one believes God has instructed that one NOT to do…

And Paul wishes that none should be lost – spiraling down pathways of self-destruction, believing themselves to have broken God’s law and thus perceiving more and more distance between themselves and our most Holy God.

It is not belief but action that establishes our character.
For it is not belief but action that sets our course.

Usually, in fact, our minds and beliefs follow our actions or inactions…

 

And so Paul is pleading with those of greater understanding, that they set aside their freedoms for the sake of the weak.

This is most curious, for I would have rather preferred instruction to educate and strengthen the weak…  But perhaps Paul wisely knew that the weak shall always be with us (and sometimes will be us).  And it is the way of Christ, to lay down oneself for one’s friends.

It is the way of Christ to lay down oneself for one’s friends. 

 

As our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world have become – or perhaps have always been – deeply fractured – we too are given ample opportunity to lay down ourselves, our preferences, our freedoms, our rights, that others might live.

How might God be calling you to do so?

 

For what these readings from 1 Corinthians teach us is that knowledge matters little in the scheme of things.  What truly matters is love – how we behave with one another.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Knowledge, prophesy, and speaking in tongues all come to an end.  All serve a purpose for such a time as this.  They guide us for a little while – until we gain greater knowledge, hear a fresh Word of God, or are lifted by the Spirit into the prayers of tomorrow.  All these, while good, have their end; they are like instructions left by a teacher, only useful while away from the teacher, but irrelevant once the teacher returns.

Christ is our Teacher, and when we finally come face to face, we may finally be at a loss for words – everything needful already being said.

 

Knowledge is passing.  We build on it, from age to age.
Prophecies come and go, each for their own time.

What lasts – truly lasts – is love.

Love

And love is not an ascent.
Love is not a belief or doctrine.
Love cannot be mandated by rule.
Love does not live with coercion.
Love does not live on the page of a letter
Or the lyrics of sweet songs.

LOVE is an action. 

 

If the greatest of all these attributes is love,

What might WE need to lay down, for Love’s sake?

Is there something Love compels us to abstain from doing?

Is there something Love is compelling us TO do?

 

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,

“The important thing is
not to think much
but to love much;
and so
do that which best stirs you
to love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Day of the Lord”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 11:23
Habakkuk 2:5
Luke 13:34
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

 

Luke 11:23

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Habakkuk 2:5

Wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own.

Luke 13:34

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

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I am struck by a number of things in this passage.

To start, I am curious about the phrase “day of the Lord.”  Since we come to this phrase with our own apocalyptic images and lore, we do well to understand it to the best of our ability.

I turned to an online resource on Biblical Hermeneutics which pointed out that this Greek word for Lord – Kurios – is only one of three Greek titles for Lord, and that Kurios is the most commonly used of those.  It is a title of address indicating authority by virtue of ownership.

 

Now this makes the term today quite sticky.  Using that term in today’s word harkens back to our nation’s own dark days of enslaving other human beings.  This when so many claimed ownership over others.  And in fact, until very recently, husbands still claimed ownership over their wives and children, as property as well.

In fact the beautiful and terrible history of our world tells this story over and over again.  We have all come to be, through times when some sought to enslave and “own,” direct and control others.  And I am deeply thankful that much of the world now rejects this, at least in many of its forms.  We still have a great deal of work to do.

 

Through-out the New Testament, we are invited to claim Jesus as our “Lord.”  Just as Paul declares that he willingly becomes the “slave” of Christ, so we too are invited into this way of being that surrenders our rights, our privilege, our autonomy to God.

To accept “Jesus as Lord” is to invite Christ into the driver’s seat,
to give Christ the keys,
to acknowledge that God is in charge – not only of the world, but of me.

 

This “day of the Lord” is then quite simply that time when Christ’s reign is made clear and tangible.  It’s that time when God’s will is done, when God’s Kingdom comes, when justice rolls down like the mighty waters, when true peace founded on justice shall reign.

 

This day of the Lord sounds magnificent – but we are warned that it won’t be for all.  It won’t be magnificent for us if we are standing in the way.  It won’t be magnificent for us if we are clinging to our own agendas.  It won’t be magnificent for us if we are trying to move against the mighty waters of justice – straining against the current of the Holy Spirit.

THIS is part of why it matters so much that we take refuge in God – simply put – because on our own we DO fight against God.  On our own, we do fall short of God’s great goodness, God’s perfect justice, God’s Kingdom on earth.  We fall short.

It is but by Christ’s blood, by Christ’s covering, that we are made acceptable in God’s sight.
It is by our repentance and turning to Christ.
It is by our confession that we cannot do it on our own.

And when we choose to take refuge in God,
when we call on God’s name,
when we return to God, taking shelter under the wings of the Almighty,
we are covered in the great flood of justice.

 

We NEED justice.  We pray for justice.  We work for justice.
We NEED love.  We pray for love.  We live in love.

BUT on our own,
we fall short,
so when justice comes,
when love comes,
we too will be swept away,
unless we are taking refuge in our God. 

This is one snapshot of the importance of Jesus Christ – of our need for deliverance, healing, rescue.

 

But another part of this goes deeper, for we are not called to simply get by.
We are not called to simply ride out cultural evils until the day of the Lord comes.
We are not made and delivered, accepted and cherished in order to go back to living in the dark.

No.

We are children of the light. 

We ARE children of the Most High.  Christ is the Light, the light of the world.  And in Christ, we too are made to shine!

 

We have work to do.
We have been given the armor of faith, hope, and love.  They are our defense against evil.
We have work to do.
We are not to sleep away our lives, to dull our senses in drink, to numb ourselves with pill.  We are NOT destined for destruction but for salvation!  This is the GOOD NEWS!
And WE have work to do!

 

Perhaps this is why the firm warning from the start – the warning about those who are comfortable and feel secure.  Perhaps that is an indicator of our state of sleep.  After all, one cannot sleep unless one feels secure…
Could it be that until THAT DAY comes – wholly and completely – we cannot rest?
Could it be that until THAT DAY comes – wholly and completely – we must not lose sight of the goal?

Could it be that when we are awake, we will not feel comfortable and secure?
Could it be that when we are alert, we will not feel comfortable and secure?

Might it be that when God has opened our eyes to the true state of the world as it is, we will not feel at peace?
Might it be that when God opens our eyes, waking us from sleep, the veils of security and control are lifted, and we realize we are NOT in control?

Is this why, Paul utters this reassurance – this beautiful re-declaration of the gospel – that Jesus Christ “died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”

Paul reminds us that whether or not we follow his teaching well, we are covered in Christ, Christ has already done it, we have been adopted into the family of God.  We are destined for life!

 

And so Christ has set us free from the patterns of sin and death.
Christ died for us – that we might live!
…even when we too have fallen asleep. 

The Good News of the Gospel! 

 

Can you believe it?!?

 

And so Paul’s instruction for us to live as children of the light, people of the day, is not out of fear of death and punishment.  It is not to be done out of guilt.  It is not in order to earn anything at all.
We do it, because that’s where life is.
We do it, because that’s where light is.
We do it, because life is better in the light and life of Christ, than anything we could muster on our own.

We live in the light,
we do the works of light,
we stay awake,
we remain alert,
in gratitude for the One who makes all things right,

the One in whom we live and move and have our very being,

the true Light.   

 

 

In the words of risen Christ, recorded by Julian of Norwich,

“I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well,…and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.”

She explains, “And in these…words, God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and in peace.”

 

Peace and rest, even amid discomfort and alertness,

Thanks be to God! 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 123

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

 

PRAYERS

Saint Augustine, North Africa (354-430)

Flood the path with light, we beseech Thee;

Turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;

Tune our hearts to brave music;

Give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;

And so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage

the souls of all who journey with us on the road to life,

to Thy honor and glory.

 

“Of One Mind”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 15:1-6
Philippians 4:1-9

Romans 15:1-6

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Philippians 4:1-9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

~~~~~~~~

 

 

Euodia and Syntyche.
Euodia and Syntyche.

Why does Paul specifically mention these two women?

Well first off, it should be well-noted that in this society, his mentioning of two women – particularly by name – is of great respect.  He goes against cultural norms that simply lumped women all together or behind men.  But Paul is calling them by name.

Not only this, but they are not being uplifted as a caricature of sinfulness or weakness (as was often the case for mentioning women), no.  Paul validates their service to the Gospel, alongside him.  He acknowledges their valued contributions and seems to hold them both in high regard, saying they have struggled beside him in the work of the Gospel.  And he asks his comrade to assist them, to help them.

 

Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche by name – not in shame, not to make a mockery of them, not reducing them to their mistakes.  They are far more than their mistakes.  They are valued and cherished.

But Paul appeals to their best nature.
Paul encourages them, in respect.
Paul exhorts them to BE OF ONE MIND.

BEFORE suggesting they step down from their work of leadership…
BEFORE suggesting they leave the congregation, the fellowship…
Paul entreats them to BE OF ONE MIND.

Be of one mind.

 

 

Pat was telling me last week of a group of Catholic sisters.  As was their practice, when they conducted the business of the church, they did not vote.  They sought God.  They prayed.  And they moved forward by consensus.  By consensus.

Be of one mind.

 

Now there are certainly times when consensus will not work.
Had Jesus surveyed the crowd and waited for permission and agreement, he would not have spoken up or spoken out.
He would not have taught.
Jesus would not have called disciples or healed the sick.

Jesus did not wait on the people to catch the vision
To get the point,
To see the end-point.

Jesus led by doing.
Jesus led by speaking.
Jesus led by calling.

Consensus would not have been the way.

 

However, in the work of the church, there is something to say for “being of one mind.”

 

Now this does NOT mean to agree about everything.
It dos NOT mean we all need to be alike.

Paul, himself, praises the variety of gifts of the people of God – as being led by the Spirit of God and vital to the church.

 

So what does it mean “to be of one mind”?

 

While none but God can peer into the mind of Paul, we can seek God here and now, for guidance to the truth.
And I see some guidance in the words that follow.

Paul calls them to let their gentleness to known to all.
Known to all…
That’s some kind of gentleness.
That is radical gentleness.
That is counter-cultural gentleness.
That is Christ-like gentleness,
Is it not?

Could it be that to be of one mind
is to treat one another with gentleness as well?
…to mind one’s words
…to mind one’s actions,
grounding each
in gentleness? 

 

Paul asks of them to call to mind all those things that are honorable, excellent, just, commendable, and worthy of praise.  And then he instructs them to “think upon these things.”
And if we truly take stock of the wonders and beauty all around,
we will never want for good things to think on.

Could it be that to be of one mind,
we must dwell on goodness?
Could it be that to be of one mind,
we must actively remember all that is excellent and worthy of praise?
Could it be that to be of one mind, we must THINK ON everything honorable? 

Could it be
that we divide and disrespect,
grow to despise
and become disillusioned,
when we think on and dwell on
rehearse and actively remember
our disappointments,
our grudges,
our complaints?

 

Paul instructs them to rejoice.  Always.
Rejoice.
Always.
Always rejoice.

Could it be that there are infinitely more things in which to rejoice in
than there are to complain about?
Could it be that a habit
of rejoicing
of giving thanks
drives out angst, anger, depression, division?
Could it be that a spiritual practice of gratitude and rejoicing
unites us in Christ,
causing us to be of one mind?

 

“Keep on doing the things…”
“Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me…”
Follow my example
in your actions
in your choices
in your behavior.

Persevere
Press on
Keep on going

Don’t give up

 

Perhaps it is by keeping on fighting the good fight,
keeping on running the race,
keeping on doing good, speaking good,
keeping on behaving gently
keeping on speaking with gentleness,
keeping on remembering all that is commendable,
keeping on dwelling on the excellent, honorable, and just;
keeping on rejoicing
always…
that we begin to experience how God can knit us together as one family of faith,
as sisters and brothers in the family of God
as fellow servants of our Living God.

Let us press on and
be of one mind.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

 

PRAYER                       (Book of Common Worship)

Almighty God,

You alone can order unruly wills and affections.

Help us to love what you command

and desire what you promise;

that in the midst of this changing world,

our hearts may be fixed

where true joys are found;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.  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…