Posts

“As We Forgive Our Debtors”

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

 

Luke 6:34-35

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

 

Matthew 18:21-35

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Does this not sound like something Jesus would say?

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

And so what does this mean for each of us? 

 

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

In Luke 6:34-35 we read:

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Halleluia!!!
Amen.

“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.

 

“My Refuge and My Fortress, My God in Whom I Trust”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 91:1-6, 9
1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

 

Psalm 91:1-6, 9

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,

 

1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.


 

This passage from 1 Peter feels strangely relevant. The world of today is vastly different from the world into which these words were written, but still we hear God speaking through the text and into our own stories.

Right now, many of us are working through incredible anxiety.  And it’s not that kind of anxiety of an imagined threat.  The threat is real.  Covid-19 is real.  300,000 people in the world dead from a virus only half a year old (in humans) is real.

The writer of 1 Peter gives this advice:

1 – Humble yourselves

2 – Casts your anxieties on God

3 – Discipline yourselves

4 – Resist the devil

 

Humility doesn’t feel at all relevant to our situation today, but on closer inspection, I see its wisdom.

That December when we discovered bed bugs in our home, I hit a new low.  Already overcoming obstacles, already beating the odds, already working overtime, already emotionally and physically exhausted, the life-altering presence of one itty-bitty bug rocked my world.  All my clothing & all fabrics and linens had to be washed, dried, and bagged.  The closest washer and dryers were a block away.  All furniture was to be moved 4 feet away from every wall.  But alas, the rooms were too small for that!  The pest company came to treat and then surprised me with the instruction as they left that I should remain in this state of upheaval for another 2 weeks.  If I was still getting bit after that, they would return for another treatment.  And two weeks after that…the same.  What I thought was a one day upheaval became a two week upheaval became a 4 week upheaval became a 6 week upheaval.  I caught sixty some bugs within that time, as they kept multiplying, and I learned how to catch them in the dead of night.

I lived with the uncertainty of not knowing where they’d come from.  It made me suspicious of everything & everyone & everywhere I’d been.  I lived with the anxiety of somehow carrying them to another person, place, or household.  How did they even operate?  What was the science?  How did I even make an informed decision?  And I lived with the complication of living out of bags for a month and a half – my furniture and rooms all discombobulated, a pile of bags of clothes in the living room floor…at Christmas.

It was my first Christmas in my new apartment, and I longed for it to feel like home.  I knew nothing makes a place a home like shared memories with family and friends, so my family had plans to come and celebrate Christmas at our place.  And then this happened.  And all our plans were to the wind.  I couldn’t even trust passing a gift to family or friends, without fear I’d also pass them the plague.

 

And in a Covid-19 context, I am surprised how similar the experiences are:  our routines are upheaved, our ways of being are being re-written, we cannot gather with others for fear of passing on illness or catching it ourselves, we cannot even shop for new clothes in a store, and our calendars and plans are all suspended indefinitely.

But of course, this time it is on a much grander scale.

And the stakes are higher:  I’ve not heard of anyone dying of bed bugs (though it certainly could be possible).

 

But that moment in which I felt I touched bottom – was through a long night of losing my dinner in the bathroom.  And in touching the bottom, I was able to push off and back upward, toward the light.  In that moment I reflected on how often I’d been this sick:  it had been rare.  I realized that my health was a gracious gift of God.  My health was a gift I’d never before paid much attention to.  I’d taken it for granted.  I realized that things could get MUCH worse than bed bugs.  I realized that things could be much more grave than a stomach illness.  And I was humbled, lying on the bathroom floor.  Every gift of God that I had enjoyed was truly a gift.  I’d not deserved them.  I wasn’t entitled to them.  And instead of complaining and bemoaning my situation, I started to give thanks.

Like Job, I’d felt very self-righteous.  I’d not done anything to deserve these plagues.  It wasn’t fair.  But in the dark despair of a lonely night, stuck in the bathroom, I humbled myself and began to give thanks.

Humility is indeed crucial.  And in this season of struggle, discomfort, and suffering, humility IS relevant.

 

Next the writer encourages us to cast our anxieties on God.

And this, my friends, is something I struggle to do.  Can I do my best in a moment – with what resources I have, with what knowledge I have, and leave the results to God?  Can I trust God with my deepest fears, hopes, and desires?  Can I wake from a fitful sleep of nightmares and turn to God in prayer, in resting, in stillness?

The writer of 1 Peter knows well that we are not equipped or expected to shoulder the weight of the worries of our lives or of the world on our shoulders.  That is GOD’s job.  And so he encourages us to cast our cares on God, because God cares for us.  We are loved with a unstopping, relentless, fierce, and steadfast love.  We are loved by Almighty God.  Can we not trust this One with all that matters most?  Can we cast our anxieties on God?

 

Third, the writer instructs the followers to be disciplined, to keep alert.  Temptation, fear, fear-mongering, lies, myths of scarcity, doubts of God’s love for us all come and stand tall around us, sometimes blocking out the sun entirely, especially when we feed them.  And so we must discipline our mind.  We must discipline our bodies.  God has given us wisdom, education, resources, data, skill, and so much more for the business of survival and prospering.  So let us do our part, let us discipline ourselves, and then may we cast our cares upon the God who cares for us.

 

Finally, we are instructed to resist the devil.  These temptations and fears come to steal, kill, and destroy.  They quench life.  They rob us of peace and of freedom and joy.  We are called to resist, standing steadfast in our faith – standing on God’s promises and in God’s presence, believing God’s word over our own fears.  Scripture declares, “Resist the devil, and he will flee.”  When we resist, when we stand firm, when we keep our eyes fixed and our minds set on God’s words to us, we renew our strength; waiting on the Lord, we mount up with wings, as eagles!

 

And so I find this instruction of 1 Peter quite helpful.  Our God is not apart from all that we are going through.  Our God is not far from the sufferings of this world.  Our God is near to the broken-hearted.  Our God hears the cries of the sick and the dying.

This whole world and everything in it belongs to our God, and nature itself obeys the command of our God.

While we cannot yet discern the path forward,…
While threat and risk emerge on all sides,…
Our God walks with us, in the joys and the pains.

So may we humble ourselves.
May we cast our cares upon God, who cares for us.
May we remain disciplined and alert.
And may we resist the devil and all our temptations,
That God’s words might reign in our minds and God’s peace in our hearts.

 

You are dear and dearly loved.
Rest in that love. 

 

“Make Space for the Unexpected”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Matthew 28:1-10

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


 

Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.

Now they foresaw his death.  In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus:  “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.”  The tension is rising.  The conflict is mounting.  Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it.  But Jesus returned.

Jesus returned. 

And he would not be safe.  Not at all.

 

But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.

Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.

And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear.  They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed.  Will they be next?

And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward.  They hunker down and button the hatchets.  They tighten their inner circle.  They spend their days in a dark room.  They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there.  They start to worry about their next meal.  The fishing begins again…

 

Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?

 

And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.

How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??

No one.

Now the Israelites were a nation occupied.  They had been colonized by Rome.  They paid the emperor taxes.  They had known victory and defeat, power and exile.  But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change.  They ever faced threats of annihilation.  They built and others tore down.  Nothing seemed sure.  And the people were antsy.  Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won.  Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship.  And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus).  Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.

It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation.  And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy.  They yearned for liberation and power.

But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit?  At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed? 

Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?

To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:

“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”

What this describes is hope.

And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?

 

Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?

Will this pass?

 

We are grasping for hope.

 

Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?

And what is the world becoming?

So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
riding bicycles,
taking long walks,
slowing down,
sitting on porches,
making music,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.

We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse.  We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences.  We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.

But

Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?

 

We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…

Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…

 

It is easy to see our fears.  We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain.  It is easy to worry.  There are way too many things out of our control right now.  It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.

 

The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.

The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.

 

But JESUS returns. 

Jesus comes back.

 

When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death! 

 

Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time.  I do not know your particular worries.  I do not know how the waters rage around you.

But I do feel the waters rising.  I know the gravity of fear.  I have known the sting of loss.

 

But JESUS returns.  Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair. 

 

Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.

Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?

Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?

Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.

 

A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days.  Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.

 

Without openness,
Without space,
Without humility,
Without intention,
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.

 

We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.

Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God. 

Make room for hope