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“The Command, as Invitation”

Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15
Luke 6:38

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me;…

Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Luke 6:38

…Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.


 

This passage from Deuteronomy is interesting.  It talks about the tithe – giving the first fruits of one’s labors to God.  Now it isn’t as though they just set baskets out before an invisible God and left them there, no.  Their gifts to God were to be given to the Levites – the family of Israelites charged with teaching about God and leading the people in their relationship with God – to the aliens – those outsiders residing among them with little means, acceptance, or connection – to the widows – those women not permitted to work who had lost the man in their lives – and to orphans – obviously the children without parents and therefore a means of survival.

So their gifts to God were to go to those in professional service of God and to those in need in their communities.  All of these groups were those who could not own land, hold jobs, farm the land, etc.  All of these groups were those whose calling or circumstance in society made them dependent on the charity of others.

These gifts were the gifts of their labors.  They were the produce of the good land God was giving them to inhabit and tend.  But it wasn’t just any produce.  It was the first produce.

 

There is something holy and sacred about giving of one’s first fruits.  First fruits are long awaited.  They are anticipated.  They are watched and waited for.  Giving thanks and remembering the Giver of these good things is a holy and life-giving act.  And we are called to give thanks first, at the start.  We are not to wait till we have forgotten God’s work.  We are not to wait until we are satiated and feel secure.  We are not to give of our leftovers.

No, we are called to give of our first fruits.

We are called to give as this holy act of remembrance and gratitude.

We are called to remember that all we have has come from God

And to remember our calling to care for the outcast, the disenfranchised, the needy among us.  We are called to use these gifts to provide for those who serve us and our communities in remembering and being still before our God.

And we are called to do this first,

Before we know what will be,

…An act of trust.

 

God’s commandment to the people to bring their first fruits to God puts remembrance, gratitude, and trust at the center of their lives.  With each new season’s produce, they come before God to remember God’s deliverance and generous provision, and to make loving provision for those dependent on God for their daily bread.

 

What a loving commandment.

I imagine many have looked upon the tithe and giving to God similarly to how they’ve looked at paying taxes or paying for a service.  It may have felt like an obligation, or perhaps a nagging guilt.  But in this commandment is the wisdom of a parent, a parent who knows that we will never be happy and whole without gratitude.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us into a ritual of remembering all that the Lord has done for us.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that re-frames our labors and energies in the perspective that God is the one who has given us those skills; given us life and health; given us the air we breath, the land we walk, the earth we till and enjoy.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us to pay our gratitude forward in caring for others.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that reminds us we are not whole until all are made whole.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that challenges us to keep trusting God into the future, so that we don’t loose our peace in that endless fight to go and get ahead and succeed.

For those of us who hear and head this call to bring our first fruits, this is a holy and life-giving act.  It is truly an act of faith.  And in it we are bringing in the Kingdom of God – the world as God intends it to be – both in our lives and in the world around us.  When we give of our first fruits to God, we invite the Kingdom of God into lives and into our communities.

 

And how merciful is this commandment.

Notice the first sentence:  “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… and possess it, and settle in it…”  WHEN…

Unlike a tax that pays little head to where you are in the journey, this commandment is not one driven by greed.  It is not so God can store up or take from us.  It is not a commandment that disregards our station and place in life.

No these gifts are to be given in proportion to what we have received!  AND we are not asked to give from our emptiness but from what we have already been given.

God does not place this command on them while they are traveling as nomads, wandering through the desert.  No.  God gives them this command for their season of arriving, their season of provision, their season of receiving God’s good gifts.

It is precisely when we receive those long-awaited promises, that provision, those gifts, those breaks, that we become vulnerable to many sins.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to believe that we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is in those moments that we can forget, by whose grace and mercy, we have arrived.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to cling to the gifts and to forget the Giver.

It is in those moments that we are tempted to ask more of mere things, that they can ever give us – such as happiness, security, peace…

That God calls us back to gratitude.

 

And God’s invitation, God’s command, is precisely what the Doctor ordered.  It is precisely what we need, so that as we move forward in this new season of abundance, we do not forget who we are and whose we are.  We do not forget those on whose shoulders we stand.  And we continually, in each season, actively remember that all good things come from God.  And we remember that our future, as was the past, is ever in God’s hands.

We remember that God is God, and we are not. 

For peace and happiness, joy and security cannot be earned or bought.  The best gifts in life, come when we remember, give thanks, walk in faith, and pay it forward.

 

God’s command to bring our first fruits, is our loving parent’s invitation to the good life,

the promised land,

…the Kingdom of God on earth. 

“Trees Beside the Stream”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

 

Psalm 1

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


 

These two passages, the first from Jeremiah and the second from the Psalms – they are strikingly similar.  They both contrast two different ways of living.  In Jeremiah, the contrast is between those who trust in mortals, in people, and those who trust in the Lord.  Then in Psalms, a contrast is drawn between those who follow the advice of the wicked and those who delight in God’s law.

These two different takes however, seem to be describing a related phenomenon because our actions and inactions reflect what we trust.  If we trust in our own minds, we rely on our own understanding when we make decisions.  If we trust in our own determination, we muscle through life’s obstacles.  If we trust in our parents, we rely on them in times of trouble.

 

In other words, our actions directly correlate to our trust.

 

Of course there are times when we rely on those we don’t much trust, but even then, we are choosing to rely on that person or tool because we think that’ll give us the best outcome.  And in that way, we are trusting in that person or tool for the outcome we want.

And in these verses, the authors are questioning WHO and WHAT we run to, when we face life’s challenges and enjoy life’s blessings.

 

Many of us are intelligent and resourceful.  We have come through storms.  We have found our way when all around us was scary and unclear.  You have sought to make sound decisions.  You have saved up for a rainy day.  You’ve disciplined yourself in order to get where you want to go.  You’ve worked hard and long.  You’ve made sacrifices.  You’ve given your life blood to provide for your family and to make the world a better place.

And it is easy to think we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is easy to forget the gifts of our parents and guardians – who may have taught us how to save and work hard, who may have given us a leg up in the world, who may have shown us what it means to be loved…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our teachers, those who poured themselves out so that we might learn – who may have taught us how to balance a budget, who may have taught us how to read and write, who may have taught us how to solve complex problems…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our friends – who may have taught us how to love one another, even while we disagree; who may have taught us how to work together to accomplish a goal; who may have taught us to laugh and not to take ourselves so seriously…

 

We stand on the shoulders of so many.

And even for those of us who remember and give thanks for the gifts so many have given us through-out our lives, it is easy to think that these visible gifts along our pathway are all that’s really going on.  It is easy to credit those who have loved and nurtured us with our successes and accomplishments.

 

But WHO gave us the gifts and talents we are wired with?  Who causes the crops to grow that feed us?  Who waters the earth with rain and warms it by the sun?  Who authors the peace that gives us space to live and grow in the world.  Who is light in a darkened world?

 

I hope you have met many who partner with God in the world.  I hope you have met those who coax life out of the dry earth.  I hope you have met those who do the hard work of peace-making, sometimes building bridges between people, sometimes drawing boundaries of protection.   I hope you have those in your life who are like the sun – brightening your world with the warm of their love.

But we love because God loved us first.  God IS love, and we learn what love is from God.

We experience true peace, peace that passes understanding, as the Holy Spirit grows the fruit of peace in our lives, as we spend time with and learn from Christ, the Prince of Peace, who claims us as God’s own, bridging the divide of sin between us.

We light up the world when Christ lives in our hearts.  We radiate the love and light of God, when we spend time in God’s presence, delighting in the Lord and remembering God’s mighty works.

 

In other words, all that we have, comes from God, Maker of all, Love embodied, the Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Bread of Life! 

 

When we remember that God is the true source of all good things, we find a Rock for every storm, we find our Guiding Light, we find our Mighty Fortress, our Refuge, our Deliverer, our Friend.

And as these scriptures so beautifully illustrate, we become like trees planted by the stream.  We are not anxious in times of drought, for our leaves do not wither.  We have placed our trust in God.  Our trust IS GOD.  And we do not cease to bear fruit.

It is perhaps why some can go through hell on earth and still give thanks, find joy, and grow.  It is perhaps how some have accessed more strength than they ever imagined possible.  It is perhaps how some have lost everything but not lost their faith or their gratitude.  It is perhaps why we are beaten down, despised, afflicted, forsaken,…and yet new life appears, new growth, fruit in the desert…

 

Wherever you are in your life – be it a time of drought or of plenty – I encourage you to take stock of all who gave of themselves so that you could be and grow.  I encourage you to remember all those you have learned from, even those who’ve taught you painful lessons you might rather have skipped, and even those from whom you’ve learned what NOT to do.

May we remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that insofar as we live and breathe and have ever experienced goodness and joy, we have experienced God’s goodness and love poured out over us.

 

Therefore, may we place our trust in God.

 

Trusting God does not necessarily mean ignoring our minds or emotions.  It does not mean we are to be reckless with our lives, our finances, or our resources.

But it does mean that we rely on God.  We place our bets on God.  We remember that what we see is only part of the whole picture, and that the giver of all good things is our Maker and our Friend, who loves us and gives us a future, with hope.

We do our very best.  We use all that God has given us – our minds, our hearts, our talents, our skills, our resources, our time, our energy – but in the end, we don’t place our trust in those things to save us or to provide.

We place our trust in the GIVER of all those good things.

We place our trust in the SOURCE.

We place our trust in GOD.

 

May we be a people who remember.

May we be a people who place our trust in GOD.

“Forever Changed”

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

 

Luke 5:1-11

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

Jeremiah 19:11

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


 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Would you do it?

Would you leave everything and follow Jesus?

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

 

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

And so did they.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

How have these moments made you feel?

What have they risen within you?

 

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

And that is something.

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

Obedience is hard.

 

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

 

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

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

God ALONE is in a position to rightly guide us.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Our families, our households, our relationships…

Our everything matters to God.

 

AND God alone can rightly guide us.

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

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

 

Do you believe it?

 

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

 

And something clicks.

 

Life is so much better with him. 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

“You Prepare A Table Before Me”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 31:1-8
Psalm 23
John 14:1-7 and 10:10b

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised.  The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them.  The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you.  Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it.  It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Psalm 23

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

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

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

John 14:1-3 and 10:10b

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 


 

Have you ever gone out of your way to surprise someone, to honor and celebrate someone?  The careful planning.  The details and arrangements.  The coordinating.

Can you recall a time when someone when out of their way to surprise you?

Some of us have these kinds of memories.

Others of us may not.

But I want to tell you that God has done just this for you.

You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil.  My cup overflows.

I’ve always read this line and immediately switched out of the sheep/shepherd analogy and back to real life.  It is a beautiful image, and one I believe to be true, of God preparing a place for us, at a table of abundance, in the presence of our enemies.

But I hadn’t before thought of this image in relation to sheep.

The Shepherd, Phillip Keller, who wrote the book “A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23” tells that the word table is often used in reference to high country:  the tablelands.  The Spanish word “mesa” is often used to refer to such lands, and mesa literally means “table.”  When one thinks of how a table is where we find our sustenance, nourishment, and fellowship, it is most appropriate to think of the highlands in this way as well.  The tablelands are the place where the sheep find their nourishment, sustenance, and closeness with the shepherd during the hardest, hottest season.

And in the same way, the assertive shepherd will go ahead of the sheep, making several trips to the tableland, before even all the spring snow is melted, to determine the best route, the best camp, the best bedding grounds, the best pasturage, and the areas of danger.  He or she goes before.

Carefully planning.  Each detail.

The shepherd will likely take with him or her some salt and minerals, to place in certain areas, for the benefit of the sheep, and he/she will scout out poisonous plants, sometimes even going to lengths to eradicate them.

Phillip Keller tells of his own experience at his first range.  When he bought it, he didn’t know the ranch was covered in blue and white cammas in the spring.  Though gorgeous to the eye, the white cammas were poisonous to the sheep.  Lambs were especially vulnerable to its poison and would stiffen up like a block of wood and die, if they ate even a few of the leaves.  So Phillip and his children would go into the fields, every spring, on hands and knees and pull each camma from the ground.  It was grueling work, but it was necessary for the sheep’s survival.

 

David was likely familiar with what it took to prepare the land for the sheep, as well.

He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about that going before, about that preparing everything in advance for me, that I find so loving.  Our good shepherd will lead us along valley pathways, onto highlands, into lands flowing with milk & honey, good lands.  And the whole journey, our Shepherd has taken before.  The dangers, the temptations, the fears, and hope, and love…Christ has felt it all before.  Christ has gone before us – through the valley of the shadow of death and to glory eternal.  And Chist goes to prepare a table before us, preparing a place at the table of God, for us.

And Christ doesn’t just go ahead, and leave us to try to make our own way.  In John, we hear Jesus speaking of returning, to get his followers, so they will be with him.

In both this image of the Shepherd, who goes to lengths to prepare the highlands for his/her sheep, and Christ, who has gone before us, both in life and in death,…to prepare a place for us…

I feel that deep and abiding love of God for me.

I feel comfort that the Shepherd will come back for the sheep, to lead them through the valleys and into the highlands – that promised land of nourishment and sustenance.

I feel comfort that Jesus promised to not leave us alone but to come back so as to lead us safely home.

 

I read the book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo a number of years ago now.  I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.  It is a father’s retelling of his own journey through extreme valleys in his life, culminating in his 4 year old son Colton’s major brush with death.  In the time following his son’s recovery, his son would say things, casually and unexpectedly, over time, about experiences with Jesus and heaven and angels…from when he was near death.  And the family was blown away by the Biblical truth, by the details and things their son could not have otherwise known, had he not indeed had such an experience with Jesus, while barely hanging on to life.

Whatever your feeling about the book or their story, I respect that.

Myself, I found it very compelling, overwhelming, profound, and simply beautiful.

One of these moments in which they got a glimpse into Colton’s experience, was when Colton and his Dad went to visit a man in the nursing home, who was very near death.  Colton’s dad Todd is a part-time pastor like myself, so where his Dad went, he went also.  Let me share a bit from this story:

Read p 117-119 of Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo, starting at the last paragraph, “Colton peered out the window…” and reading through the end of the chapter. 

11'11'18 You Prepare EXCERPT 1

11'11'18 You Prepare EXCERPT 2

11'11'18 You Prepare EXCERPT 3

 

I find it very comforting, that we are not alone.

That our Lord goes before us

And comes back for us

For every season of our journey.

 

From the Israelites crossing over the Jordan and entering the promised land… to now

God has promised to go before us AND to be with us.

 

Our Lord has prepared a table for us.

And Christ leads us to it

 

It is not merely a heavenly table, surrounded by God, in all God’s glory

I believe it is that,

But it is also a table, here and now, in the presence of our enemies…

 

In the midst of our trials and troubles…  In the presence of those who hate, bad-mouth, and look down on…   In the muck and mire of our real, day to day…  In the misunderstandings and hurt feelings…  In the systems we feel powerless to change…  In the battles we fight over and over again…  In the midst of all that would threaten our life and our happiness…

Here,

God prepares a table before us.

In this place,

Our cup overflows! 

 

What a miracle of our Lord!

that our life and healing

protection and closeness

happiness and sustenance

would be given us

in the midst of such adversity

 

Let us pray.

Lord, Christ, we long to be in the tablelands.  We long to know what it’s like that our cup overflows!!!  We want to know your loving preparation and provision.  We want to see your fingerprints all over every aspect of our lives!!!

We want to follow you into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey.

Thank you,

that you have gone before.  Thank you that you are getting everything ready even still.

Thank you,

that you have not left us on our own to find our way.

Thank you,

that you lead us still

Every step

Every season.

 

Thank you for being the Lord of our life

life to the full!

both in this life,

and forevermore.

 

Lord, do it.  Make it so!!!

We love you.

Amen