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“Vision Unimpaired”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 40:27-31
Deuteronomy 34:1-12

 

Isaiah 40:27-31

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

 

Can you imagine a life like Moses’?

 

The different chapters hardly seem like they should hold together in one person’s story!

He is born to a Hebrew family, amid genocide – the killing of all the Hebrew baby boys by the Egyptian government at Pharaoh’s command.  He is finally abandoned into a carefully lined basket left in the bullrushes along the side of the Nile, his sister left to keep watch, for he has become too big and loud to keep quiet and hidden.

Moses is then found by one of Pharaoh’s own daughters.  There he gets his name “Moses” – as one drawn out of water.  He is first raised by his own family – as his sister quickly offers her family as one to care for the boy while he nurses and is young, and the princess accepts.

Then he moves in the palatial grounds where he grows up among the Egyptian elite, as one of them, the princess’s adopted son.

But this time reaches its abrupt ending, as he loses his temper with an Egyptian task-master, beating a Hebrew slave.  Moses is enraged at the injustice, rises up, and kills the Egyptian.  And for this he knows he must flee.  And so he does.  He flees into the wilderness.

And it is there that he finds Herders and Farmers.  And he finds a woman whom he marries as his wife.  And there he lives a good long time.

…until he sees that bush on fire – on fire yet not burning up!

There is where GOD speaks to him.

There is where GOD calls him back to Egypt – to be used by God to set the Hebrews free.

 

And so this man…

born of a Hebrew slave,
narrowly escaping infant death by adoption into Pharaoh’s own household,
enraged by the mistreatment of his people, the Hebrews, he kills an abuse and must flee.

This Hebrew, raised an Egyptian, murderer of an Egyptian slave-master over the Hebrews, then flees these disparate parts of his past and takes refuge in the wilderness, tending flocks, starting a family.

He’s become a family man, a quiet man, an invisible man, an immigrant, a refugee…
Until GOD calls him back,
back to his past and everything stirring, everything enraging, everything unjust and evil.

GOD calls him back IN ORDER TO lead the Hebrew people OUT, out to life and freedom and a future of hope.

 

And so this Hebrew, Egyptian, Murderer, Immigrant, Refugee, Husband…

is CALLED by God. 

 

This man –
already having lived decades of three different lives entirely –
is called to a new chapter:
one of miracles, signs, terrible wonders, great evil, and great deliverance.

 

And if that doesn’t already sound like enough, he is THEN called to lead the people AFTER their deliverance – another whole skill-set ENTIRELY.  He must seek God’s face for the people.  He must convey God’s Words to the people.  He must lead the people in their long, arduous journey through the wilderness.

He faces complaining.
He faces mutiny.
He faces idolatry.
He faces utter faithlessness.
He faces disobedience.
He faces disputes.
He faces good intentions and frail follow-through.

He is now in the role of pastor, president, interceder, judge, and navigator.

 

-A Hebrew-born, Egyptian raced, righteously indignant murdering, Immigrant, Refugee, Husband, Prophet, Diplomat, Freedom Fighter, Navigator, Interceder, Spiritual Guide, President, Pastor, and Judge-  

Ughhhhhh.

It makes me tired thinking about it.
It makes me tired saying it.

How about you?

 

And yet,
in Deuteronomy 34,
to the end of his life,
Moses’ vision is unimpaired.  His vigor has not waned… to the end. 

 

Wow

 

Judging by Moses’ outrage at the merciless, Egyptian slave-master,…

Given Moses’ fury when returning from long communion with God on the mountain – to break the stone tablets of the word,…

Judging by Moses’ slamming of the stick upon the rock – in anger at the faithless, entitled, short-sited, ungrateful complaining of the people who wanted water.  Right.  Then…

I’m guessing Moses was a passionate man.

I’m guessing he had two settings – on and off.  When he was in the wilderness, he could turn it off.  We don’t have any stories of him fighting off nomads or raiders.  But when in the middle of the cultural-political-enslaving-exploiting-murderous drama, in which he was raised and from which he had been spared, he could not turn it off.  His sense of justice was acute.  His anger would swell.  And when he watched as the people swiftly forgot God’s faithfulness, deliverance, signs, and wonders – no wonder, he lost his cool.  He felt things deeply.  He had a keen sense of right and wrong.

 

And speaking from experience, this is a hard road to walk.  To open ones eyes to injustice; to be present to the oppressed, the violated, the exploited; to confront fear-filled and death-dealing regimes of power IS EXHAUSTING.

To deliver, to lead, to teach, to guide…  To console and exhort, to seek God’s face and speak God’s words…  and yet be met with such short God-memory, such flighty faithfulness, and such ungrateful demand is outrageous.  Moses knows this bad behavior won’t fly with God, and Moses can hardly contain himself.  He breaks things.  He hits things…sometimes.  And yet he implores God to give them yet one more chance…again and again.

It is amazing.  Crazy amazing.

 

I am not endorsing Moses’ break-downs.  I am not excusing them.  God didn’t.

It’s because of his outburst smacking that rock with his stick – from which water gushed onto the complaining people – that he is not allowed to enter into the promised land.  He only sees it with his eyes…his eyes which have not diminished, which have not become impaired.  He gets to SEE the promised land, but he doesn’t get to enter.

 

No Moses’ bad behavior – his murder, his outbursts – hitting and breaking things – none of this was okay.

But if we, for even a minute, imagine the road he walked, I imagine few – if any – of us could have done as well!  Could we have walked as long or as far?  Could we have led for so long, amid such stress and turmoil, conflict and complaining?  Could we have worked until we passed – not retiring?  Could we have worn so many different hats?  Could we have returned to the land of our oppression & anger & fear, in order that others might be set free?  Could we have confronted the mightiest power of the land?  Could we have stood, our arms raised in obedience, in the face of the in-coming Eyptian army, while the people walk across a lake-bottom by foot, chased by horses and chariots?

 

Moses did all these things and far more.  These are only the stories that have reached us.
And yet when he died, he was still full of vigor, his vision unimpaired. 

 

And I wonder, is this the kind of eternal life – quality of life – that God gives? 

Could it be that – as we obey, as we press in, as we face our fears – that God gives us wisdom and unimagined strength?

Could it be that service to God is the best kind of life we can have?

 

Despite all that stress and wear, Moses remained full of vigor. 
By reports in fact, he shined.  He shone with the light of God – for he spent time, face to face with God – and so he glowed. 

 

Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, scripture proclaims.
They shall mount up with wings, as eagles.
They shall run and not grow weary.
They shall walk and not faint.

They shall walk and not faint. 

 

May WE be so bold,

So attentive,

So obedient,

So faithful,

So returning to God,

So taking refuge in God,

That WE TOO GLOW.

 

May WE TOO know

That eternal life – that quality of life
that makes life worth living
that is the nectar and sweetness of life.  

 

Here I am, Lord. 

Is it I, Lord? 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER                                                                       (Ted Loder)

Gentle me,
Holy One,
into an unclenched momento
a deep breath,
a letting go
of heavy experiences,
of dead certainties,

that,
softened by the silence,
surrounded by the light,
and open to the mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
upheld by the unfathomable,
entranced by the simple,
and filled with the joy

that is you.

                                                                                    (Tomas H. Tellez, Nicaragua)

Lord, free us from falling into the sin of believing that the slavery in Egypt is better than the struggles in the desert.

                                                                                    (Frederick Buechner, adapted)

Lord Jesus Christ, help us not to fall in love with the night that covers us but through the darkness to watch for you as well as to work for you; to dream and hunger in the dark for the light of you.  Help us to know that the madness of God is saner than men and that nothing that God has wrought in this world was ever possible.

Give us back the great hope again that the future is yours, that not ever the world can hide you from us forever, that at the end the One who came will come back in power to work joy in us stronger even than death.

(Psalm 19, 13-17)

Turn, O Lord! How long?  Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let your favor, O God, be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

  (Daniel J. McGill)
Bless, O God, my enemies with sunshine.
Upon their crops come shining.
May green grass grow in their meadows,
Sweet crops within their fields;
Send rain upon their soil,
Fill their children with joy,
Bless their grandparents with peace.
May every woman of them know delight;
May ever man of them be loved.
May the birds of their air never hear bombs;
May their rivers run clean, their air smell sweet in the morning.

May all things with life be blessed!
For if my enemy is not blessed,
How can I, O Lord, be blessed?
How can I?
For earth shall cry if they shall weep,
And I shall cry if she is hurt.

 

 

Sending                                   (Numbers 6:22-26)

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

 

“How Long, O Lord?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 13

 

Amos 5:18-24

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.


 

This Psalm is like a breath of fresh air because it speaks the angst and anger in our souls.  It speaks to the pain and sorrows we bear.  It speaks to our lament and loss.

I have wanted to relate to this Psalm much less than I do.

But in fact, this Psalm has more often than not felt right in line with the prayers and cries of my heart.  So many times I’ve needed to cry out honestly to God, “How long, O Lord!?  How long?”

But the turning point in this Psalm comes when the Psalmist writes, “But I trusted in your steadfast love.  My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”  Even while he is in the midst of pain and sorrow…  Even while he feels God’s face has turned away from him…  Even before God answers his cries…  The Psalmist returns to truth and praise.

 

I cannot tell you how many times this re-framing of life has in fact saved my life.  I don’t know about you, but there are caverns of my mind and heart in which I can lose myself.  As a minister, I choose to walk alongside others, in deepest valleys and highest mountaintops.  As an empathetic person, I feel the pain and suffering of those around me.  And in times like these, when the whole world is lamenting the needless and tragic loss of unarmed black men and women in particular, I feel the heaviness of hearts around me.

And I believe we are called to walk with one another in these heights and depths.  As Presbyterians in particular, we affirm the “priesthood of all believers.”  This means that we believe each one of us has a calling to minister to one another.  And though each of us does it in a different way, we are all filled with God’s Spirit, and we are all given this heavenly calling of ministering, one to another.

 

But as we walk alongside one another, as we journey through the heights and the depths, we need to remain grounded in God’s word, in God’s truth.

For me, this has meant an intentional returning to scripture, an intentional remembering of scripture, an intentional choice to believe God’s word over my own feelings, over my own fears, over my own despair or anxieties.  God’s word has been grounding.

 

And so when I am tempted to think God has forsaken me, I remember Psalm 139 – in which the Psalmist proclaims that there is no where he can go, where God will not be!

And when I am tempted to believe that God does not regard me, I remember Jesus’ teaching of the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air – how they do not reap or sow but how God clothes and feeds them, and how we are of more worth to God than many sparrows.  I remember God’s words through Psalm 63, “For you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”

When I am tempted to despair that the future will be brighter than the past, I recall Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future of hope.”’

 

Story after story in the Bible, Psalm after Psalm, God’s Word through prophet and all creation continues to speak into my life and the lives of those around me – grounding and re-framing our experiences.  And at this particular moment of our national history, I am moved by the verses we read from Amos.  In Amos, God is rebuking the people for their evil ways.  God goes so far as to say God despises their festivals, will not accept their sacrifices, and will not listen to their songs.

Now you would think God was talking to a pagan people or something – people who were singing falsehood or worshiping an idol, but in fact God is speaking to God’s own chosen people.  Their sacrifices, their solemn assemblies, their praise are all worthless,… without justice.

Read Amos 5:18-24 again.
Can you hear God speaking to us here and now, through this Old Testament prophet?

We as a church body ask that God’s will may be done.  We pray that God’s Kingdom will come.  We sing aloud.  We offer tithes and offerings.  We celebrate special holy days and seasons.  But none of this is pleasing to God and God will in fact no accept these offerings and songs, UNLESS they are accompanied with justice.

And this is not a token act of justice.  God says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

Our worship, our words, our proclamations, our giving,…none of it amounts to anything, without justice.  For our actions matter more.  How we treat one another matters more.  And justice is not a one-time event.  We are to let justice roll down like waters.  Waters that roll down are unstoppable.  They cannot be contained.  We are to let righteousness be an ever flowing stream -ever flowing!  These waters of righteousness and goodness, justice and truth, are to flow like waters, on and on and on!  THAT is what is pleasing to God.  THAT is an offering God accepts.  THAT is true worship – worship with our lives, worship with our actions, worship with our policies, our politics, our votes, our civic responsibility.

 

So as we come before God this day…
As we stand before one another this day…
As we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord!?”…
As we walk alongside those for whom tears have been their food night and day…

 

May WE do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

May WE labor and love that justice might roll down like the waters.

May WE invite God into the sacred and the secular, the personal and the political, because the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; there is no place where we can go that God will not be.  And our God calls us to be people of justice. 

 

So BEFORE we see the fruit of our love and labors…
BEFORE we see righteousness cover our communities…
BEFORE justice rolls down like the waters…
BEFORE we see God’s deliverance…

We will remember God’s steadfast love.  We give God our thanks and praise, for our God has dealt bountifully with us.  We rejoice in God’s deliverance.  For though we do not yet see that for which we hope and cry out, we trust that our God is faithful, our God is able, our God is just, and our God is loving.  And so we hang our heads in the hands of the One who loves us better than we can even love ourselves.

 

“Holy Spirit, move within us, stir us and send us like the wind, that we might will and work for your good pleasure – that justice may indeed cover the earth, rolling down like the mighty waters.  Amen.”

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE                    (St. Francis)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 

“Speaking Truth to Temptation”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

 

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.


 

I’ve never before stopped to consider these two scriptures side by side – the fall and the temptation of Jesus – but there are a number of parallels that perhaps are worth investigating.

In both the story of Adam and Eve and Jesus’ wilderness temptation, we learn that the characters are tempted by Satan, or the devil.  Each time, the devil approaches them.  And it is noteworthy that both Eve and Jesus respond to Satan by repeating God’s words to them.

The differences in these two stories, however, is what sets them apart.  In the Adam & Eve story, the devil plants a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind.  He suggests that what God has told them is not true and that God is really trying to keep them down, to subjugate them.  He suggests that disobedience to God’s instruction will actually make them all-wise and all-seeing, like God.  Eve and Adam bite the bait.  The seed of doubt takes root.  They decide they want to be like God.  They decide that perhaps life will be better for them if they disobey.

But what they find is great loss:  loss of innocence, loss of comfort and security, loss of daily communion with God in the garden.  And they gain turmoil, hard labor, pain and suffering, and ultimately death.  They die twice – first they die inwardly, second they die outwardly, first their spirit and then their bodies.

This is a painful story to witness, and yet it very well captures our same doubts, motives, and temptations.  We too want to be like God – knowing all things, seeing all things.  We too want to be master of our own houses, captain of our own ships.  We too fall for the suggestion that perhaps God is holding out on us and that we can get more from life by going our own way.

 

And then contrasting is Jesus’ story of temptation.  Like Eve, Jesus quotes God’s word back to the devil, but Jesus holds fast.  In fact Satan’s strategy with Jesus is to challenge who he is, his identity.  Twice he says to Jesus:  “If you are the Son of God,…” then do this, do that.  But Jesus doesn’t fall into this trap of trying to prove himself.  He doesn’t try to justify himself.  He doesn’t doubt or second-guess himself.  Instead, he holds fast to God’s word.  He holds fast to the truth God has shown him.

So when this assault on Jesus’ identity fails to work, Satan tries the good-ole “power, riches, and glory” temptation.  It works on most of us!  He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, promising to give it all to Jesus if Jesus just worships him.  But Jesus again holds fast to God’s word and commands Satan to be gone.  Jesus doesn’t fall for Satan’s lies.  Jesus doesn’t doubt God’s love for him.  Jesus doesn’t believe God is holding out on him and that more can be gained by going him own way.

No, Jesus knows the love of God.

Jesus knows the word of God.

Jesus trusts God to have the very best in store for him.

 

And Jesus knows who he is.

He is secure in his identity.

 

Isn’t this how so may of us go astray?

We question our identity.  We question our worth.  We question our value to God.  We question God’s love for us.  We question God’s good judgement – to best determine what’s in our very best interest.  And we rely too heavily on our limited scope of vision and desire.

 

When I was young I didn’t really understand how to read the Bible.  Even still, much of it remains a mystery.  After all, it is rather confusing and obscure.  It is definitely not like your usual books.  And the characters and stories are difficult.  How is one to even begin to understand how to apply them to their lives?

But in college, I got to know some of our brothers and sisters of other denominational flavors, and what I learned with them would change my life.  I learned that when God is speaking to the chosen people, God is also speaking to me, because God has adopted me into the family of God.  I learned that statements about God’s character help me understand God’s love for and relationship with even me.  And so, for the very first time, the scriptures became alive and personal, relevant to my everyday life.

At the bottom of this article, I’ve provided a list of some of these foundational scriptures that changed my life, strait from a tattered type-writer copy I kept from college.  Condensed on this list are scriptures that speak to who we are and whose we are.  On this list are promises from God to us.

I learned from these brothers and sisters that I could fight temptations by speaking God’s Word.  And so when I felt afraid, I would speak aloud, “Greater is he who is in me, than he who is in the world; if God is for me, who can be against me; and God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-discipline.”

Scriptures like these taught me who I am.  They spoke truth into fear.  They helped me re-ground in God’s word instead of reacting out of my own fears and doubts.  And they pointed me toward the life and hope that Christ died to give me.

 

We can learn from Adam and Eve and from Jesus.  They both knew God’s word to them.  But while Adam and Eve allowed lies, doubt in God’s love, and a lust for power and control to overtake them, Jesus clung to God’s word, holding fast.

 

May we learn God’s word.

May we cling to God’s word.

May we speak God’s truth into our fears and temptations.  Aloud.

And may we rest in the assurance of God’s love for us.

 

You are beloved by God.  You are of great worth to God.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb.  And there is no place you can go where God’s love won’t follow you. 

 

May we believe

And like Jesus, find our peace.

 

Amen.

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental

3'1'20 Speaking Truth to Temptation Supplemental 2

“Thy Kingdom Come…In Us”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 8
Isaiah 35:1-10

 

1 Samuel 8

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

 

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


 

What is the point of all these Isaiah prophesies – telling of the coming of justice and God’s reign?  We are instructed that with Christ, comes God’s reign, and yet for the last 2000+ years, we’ve had knowledge of Jesus Christ, and yet wars still rage, injustice still reigns, and all things have not yet been made right.

What are we to make of this?

 

Is all this just a nice dream, a fairy-tale, make-believe?

Is it what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the presence of evils and powers we feel powerless to change?

 

I wonder.

 

 

And I feel bad for asking these questions.  After all, I’ve not known more love and truth, hope and goodness than what I’ve found in Jesus Christ.

But what do I make of these prophesies and the disparity we see between the vision of God’s Kingdom and the realities of our broken world?

 

In the Old Testament, we read a lot about kingdoms.  Israel as a nation was supposed to be led by God and not by any human, that is why God raised up for them judges and prophets instead of kings.  They were to communicate God’s will to the people.  But in the end the people wanted a human king.  Like every child who wanted the same things as his peers, the nation of Israel wanted a king.  They wanted to be like all the other nations around them.

To this request, God warned them that if they got what they wanted, they would regret it.  Kings would cause suffering – asking of them the fruit of their labors and the lives of their children.  But the people did not heed God’s words through the prophet, and so God gave them over to their misguided desires.  God gave them a king.

 

And indeed the people knew suffering.  Their first king, King Saul, led them in God’s way for awhile, but he strayed from the Lord and began to disobey God’s leading, so much so that he was tormented by an evil spirit and God’s Spirit left him.

Their next king, King David, is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, but he certainly made his share of mistakes – taking life unjustly and abusing his power for his own personal gain.

And then after David, we have King Solomon – known as the wise king who rebuilds the temple.  But alas, he has many wives and is quite indulgent.  But following these three kings, the list goes downhill sharply.

 

Thus, Israel came to intimately know the downside of spurning God’s leadership and trading down for a human leader.  But experiencing all this suffering unfortunately does not insure that any of us learn our lessons.  And the nation kept wanting a new a better king.

This is something of the environment into which Jesus is born.  And Jesus starts using the phrase “Kingdom of God.”  Does it remind you of anything?  If the people’s memories had been preserved strongly, with the passing on of the knowledge of God and their history as part of God’s story, then this phrase, “The Kingdom of God” should take them back to the times of the judges and the prophets, the time when God sought to lead them more directly, without a personal ego in the way.

 

“The Kingdom of God” could also take them back to that original story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Because it was then that God walked and talked with the people directly.  Indeed THIS is what God intends for each of us.  But in our sinfulness, we have traded that possibility for the chance and power and knowledge and control.  We have sought not to be led but to lead.  We have sought not the One who knows but rather to know ourselves.

We wanted to BE God, rather than to be with God.

As a human species we have always wanted to be in full control, from our very beginnings – as though any of us possess the wisdom and power to do that, much less effectively.

 

And when God called Israel into covenant relationship with God – to be God’s people, a city on a hill – God provided leaders, judges, and prophets.  But again the people wanted more.  It seemed to weak perhaps.  They wanted a figure-head, and human display of power and might.  And so they got what they wanted.  And they traded down God’s good gift of intimate leadership for a human leader, a human king.

 

So here we have Jesus, claiming to have brought the Kingdom of God to earth.

For the first time in our history, since our fall in the garden, God will reign.  God’s will has come to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And everywhere, hearts that receive Christ, receive God’s reign in their hearts – where God will live and guide them, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

And so, God’s Kingdom has come.  But not in the human sense.  Jesus didn’t make himself their human mascot king.  Jesus had bigger fish to fry.  Jesus didn’t want to govern our actions but to be Lord of our hearts – that we might will to do what is pleasing to God.

And Jesus came to bring that Good News that God wasn’t looking for perfect people but for followers.  WHO would let Jesus into their hearts?  Who would allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives and sensibilities?  WHO would be so transformed in God’s unwithheld love that they’d never be the same?  WHO would be among those who finally realized that life isn’t life at all, unless it is the life that God freely gives?

 

And so our Messiah has come.  Our King has come.  Our Rescuer, Deliverer, Savior has come!  But not in the human sense, not in our human political machines, not into our systems of laws and societal order.

 

God has come into hearts, far and wide. 

 

And if God reigns in us,…

If God truly lives in us,…

Where God is still truly received,…

Where God’s WORD is still welcomed and followed,…

THERE is the Kingdom of God.

THERE is power and authority like none other.

 

THERE we find justice flowing down.

THERE we hear truth rightly spoken

THERE the sick are made well.

THERE the lame are healed, the deaf hear, and the blind see.

THERE the burning, thirsty ground becomes a pool of refreshing.

THERE we hear singing, with everlasting joy and gladness.

THERE no one steals or kills or destroys.

 

THIS is the power of God.  THIS is the Kingdom of God.

WE are the body of Church.  WE are the body of Christ.

 

Will we rise up and be people of God?

The family of God?

The messengers of God?

 

Will we bring Good News?

Will we set the captive free?

Do we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?

 

 

In all things and at all times, we have a choice to make: 

To follow Christ our Lord and King

Or to follow in our own way. 

 

May we,

Both individually and collectively,

Choose to bear the Kingdom of God into this weary and burnt-out world,

Day after day

After day.

 

The world is dying for the LIFE that lives in you. 

 

“Sure As the Morning Sun”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:13-24
Jeremiah 33:14-26

 

Romans 11:13-24

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Jeremiah 33:14-26

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.

 


 

In this scripture from Jeremiah, we hear God’s promises to the people, and I am impressed by God’s reassurances.  God makes this round-about point – just to show Jeremiah how faithful and trustworthy God is to the people and to fulfill these promises.  God says that if any of them can cause God’s covenant with day and night to be broken, that only then would God’s covenant with David be broken.

And since human beings cannot cause the cessation of day and night, even more-so can human beings not cause God to break faith and promises with David.

These promises are sure.

They are steadfast.

They are as steady as the day.

They are as reliable as the night.

 

 

This reassurance of God’s faithfulness is needed.   It is needed because time and again, human beings do horrific things.  And down deep we fear God may turn God’s back on us.

And these fears are not unfounded.  Indeed our behaviors can affect whether or not God will respond to us or answer our prayers.  Our behaviors do have consequences.  We indeed reap what we sow.

Just before this in Jeremiah’s book, we read that the Chaldeans will come & fight and fill the broken-down houses with dead bodies that God will strike down, precisely because of the people’s wickedness.  God will hide God’s face from the city.

 

Indeed our actions do have consequences.  We can close ourselves off to God’s presence and God’s grace.  We can harden our hearts.  We can become intrenched in sin, deaf and dumb to God’s Spirit.  And we can set ourselves -in opposition to God- and all that is holy.

And knowing we will always revisit this question, God gives us this very visual demonstration of faithfulness.  So that with each morning and each evening, we might remember that God’s faithfulness is as steadfast as the morning sun, as reliable as the evening shade.

 

We do not alter God’s faithfulness.

We can only alter our participation in God’s work.

By our actions we may opt in and opt out.

But our actions do not lesson God’s faithfulness. 

 

And so knowing that we can indeed turn our backs and hide our faces from God, it is imperative that we humbly return to God, day after day.  God’s faithfulness does not wain, but we can close ourselves off to God and all that is good and true.

 

The sun is again a good visual aid for this concept.

I remember when I first rode in a plane.  I wasn’t young, and yet I was surprised when we passed through the cloud-cover of a gray and drippy day only to find the sun shining strong on the other side.

Now had you asked me, I could have worked out that this would be the case – of course the sun is still shining even when I cannot see it – but it was a profound perspective shift.  This fact that the sun is still shining, even when we cannot see it, remains with me today.

 

And God’s faithfulness is like the sun.  It is a faithful as the morning and the evening.  It shines, even when we cannot feel it or see it.

We can box the sun out.  We can keep the shades drawn and stay in the basement, but God’s radiance, God’s faithfulness shines on.

 

Now God’s faithfulness doesn’t always take the forms and timing and paths we expect.

In this scripture passage we read about how God will keep a son on David’s throne and a priest to offer sacrifices for all time.  And I expect many have and many still do expect that God was speaking about the human nation of Israel.  Many still read these passages and think they are all very specific to the Jewish nation and their continued existence and prowess.  But I do not think in that way.  The book of Hebrews makes clear that Christ has become our high priest – for all time.  Christ is the sacrifice.  Christ himself became our way to God, our mediator, our cleansing blood.  And Christ is a descendant of David who reigns in power to this day.

In Christ, this promise is fulfilled!

And in this same passage, God says God will increase the offspring of David and the Levites who minister to God.  And in Christ, this too has been fulfilled – for all time – for from every nation God has risen up offspring of Israel.  God has grafted all those who believe into the family tree of God.

In Christ, God has forever set a descendant of David on the throne, God has forever set before us a high priest, and God has risen-up offspring to Israel by grafting in believers from many nations and times.

 

God has done something no human mind could have imagined.

We were thinking small.

God was thinking big.

We were thinking local.

God was thinking global.

 

And so as we leave this place of worship today, I invite you remember, with each sunrise and sunset, just how steadfast is God’s faithfulness and love. 

God’s promises are sure.

Nothing we do or don’t do can break them.

 

And so the question is:

Will we take part?

Will we experience the radiant love of the Lord?

Will we experience the never-giving up love of God?

Will we receive the sunlight on our skin and in our hair?

We will continue in the kindness of God?

 

God’s faithfulness is unending.  God’s love is steadfast and true.  God’s promises are sure.

Now our job is to stand in the light of God’s radiance,

Day after day,

And wait

And listen

And receive

And follow.

 

And may we experience and take part in

God’s abiding, steadfast, and

unbreakable love and faithfulness,

in this world

and in our lives.