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“Facing Truth – the First Step”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11
2 Peter 3:8-9
Mark 1:1-8

 

Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 …See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

 

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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

 

 

These infamous words of scripture, “Comfort, comfort, Oh my people”…they cause my heart to sing, strait away.  I am transported into Handel’s Messiah, just like that.

And famous they should be, because they are gospel!  They are good news!

But what we oft’ fail to notice is the Lord’s discipline, which precedes this voice of glad tidings.  The message of comfort is precisely so entirely comforting BECAUSE it comes on the heals of suffering.  It comes on the heals of sleeping in the beds we’ve made for ourselves.  It comes after we are eating our words, after we have our foots in our mouths, after we are ashamed and exposed.

God’s light reveals truth.  And truth shows both our beauty and our haggardly appearance.  We have both.  And by the rules of this world alone, we are stuck, beholden to our own sins, trapped in the cycles of sin and death, willing to do good but seemingly powerless to do it!

And THIS is the place into which the good news comes. 

 

Amid injustice, amid pain and suffering, amid disconnect, amid dissension,…
Amid othering, amid coldness and cruelty, amid oppression and rampant fear…
Jesus comes,
a little baby.
And the earth breaths a sigh, the heaven’s burst forth, and both near and far God’s inbreaking is on display.

 

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that time is but a moment to God.  What we may perceive as God’s slowness to act, is in fact God’s desire that ALL might be saved.  God is patient – more than any of us can comprehend – for God wills that all might come to repentance and enter into that fullness of life!

And so God WAITs until the fullness of time – until the right time.
AND – to aid those still needing a change of heart, still needing a nudge, still needing to grow in humility, God sends John the Baptist.

 

John the Baptist lives in ways most unconventional.  Some only come to see him in order to gawk.  But he is doing the unsettling work.  He is helping folks connect with their yearning, their need, THE REALITIES OF WHO THEY TRULY ARE, fluorescent lights ON.

No wonder some didn’t like him.
No wonder his life would be cut short by a powerful couple who did not like the truth he’d publicly spoken about them…

He spoke truth to power – bringing the things we hide in the dark, out into the light.

 

For it is in the light, that we may find healing…
IF we do not retreat into darkness: defending ourselves, denying the truth, spinning the facts, controlling the news, cutting off the heads of those who speak what we’re intent on hiding.

Because if we think we have no sin,
the truth is not in us.

And where there is no truth there is no life.

 

Christ has come that we might have life,
and have it to THE FULL. 

The full

 

God is not content with facades.
God is not pleased by our outward shows of holiness.
God is not impressed by our score-keeping:  one-upping one another, judging ourselves by one another (and one another by ourselves). We might as well be arguing over various shades of gray; it’s ALL gray.
We have ALL sinned.
We are ALIKE sinners before a Holy God.

And until we come to that realization, we cannot begin to perceive our need for Christ.
And so God sent John the Baptist. 

 

Now, there are those in your life, and in mine,
who tweak your nerves.
There are those in your life, and in mine,
around whom you behave your worst.
There are those who point out your faults,
whether openly or covertly,
And despite our deep desires to be done with these individuals,

God has promised us blessing THROUGH all things.  God can use these moments, these folks, these circumstances as our teachers, our friends.  Around them, we learn more about ourselves.  Our growing edges are made plain, our sensitivities exposed, our triggers on display.

 

And in this way, we oft’ serve as John the Baptists for one another. 

 

Every moment, every person, every circumstance presents us with a chance:  to lean into reality or to retreat, to accept the world on its own terms or to deny it, to accept one another as they are or to try to control them.  When we allow our God-given feelings – especially those angry, uglier ones – to teach us, we too step into the light.  We too allow ourselves to be exposed, as in fluorescent light.

And we have the opportunity to engage the truths about ourselves, others, and the world; or to hide from them. 

 

But if we trust that God is using all things for good in our lives,
then we begin to look for the lessons, the truths.

If we believe that God has given us our feelings and that they are inherently good,
we can make peace in ourselves and allow them to teach us.

And if we believe that Christ is coming still today,
that God is present and alive today,
then we are ever on watch, ever seeking, ever waiting.

 

 

Who may God have sent into your life to be a John the Baptist?

You may be drawn to them, as were the multitudes who traveled out to the wilderness from the city to be baptized by him.
You may be repulsed by them, and come all that way from the city just to gawk and make fun.
You may feel threatened by them because they expose truth.

 

But God has sent them.
God has allowed them.

And in these circumstances you might rather avoid, God is providing you the chance to prepare the way of the Lord, by listening for God’s voice of truth and turning from sin. 

 

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our hearts?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our minds?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our openness, in our listening for God – even in the faces of those who irritate us?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord? 

 

There was a good reason God sent John the Baptist ahead:  we don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, we don’t like to sit with our failures, we don’t like to get real with ourselves or others about our shortcomings, we DO NOT LIKE to change under fluorescent lights.

But when we listen to the voices of John the Baptists,
when we look ourselves over in honesty and truth, in the mirrors of our changing rooms,
we are made ready: 
ready for God-with-us! 

 

So repent! Let us turn from our life-diminishing, truth-denying, sin-sabotaged ways, and prepare the way of Christ, the Lord. 

 

 

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PRAYER                (Psalm 85:8-9a)

Let me hear what You, Lord God, will speak,
for You will speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to You in their hearts.
Surely your salvation is at hand for those who fear you!

“Neither Too Little Nor Too Much”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 6:38,49
2 Corinthians 8:8-15

 

Luke 6:38, 49

…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.” …The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

 

2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.”

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The words of Jesus Christ continue to make us uncomfortable.  Jesus’ words stopped folks in their tracks.  They confounded.  They compelled.  They inspired.  They shed light.

Have you ever felt the awkwardness of being in a large room with someone who knows you well and doesn’t have any inhibition sharing it with others?  …like your mother?!?  …hypothetically speaking.  😉

We can feel like the fluorescent lights have been turned on in the dressing room:  it’s not a pretty sight!  And this is part of the paradox of knowing Jesus.  Jesus both comforted and disquieted, healed and afflicted.  And in reality, it wasn’t that Jesus afflicted, so much as that he SHED LIGHT ON the afflictions of the afflicted.  The brights were turned on, the veils of delusions lifted, the lies exposed…

And so for the seeker, Jesus was water in the desert…while for the comfortably indifferent, Jesus was a flashpoint, a lightning rod,…fluorescent lighting in a dressing room (no wonder they wanted him gone!).

And the lines aren’t so clear, as each of us is a mingled mix of light and dark, goodness and evil.  And so God comes to each of us, in these dichotomous ways.  Have you experienced this?  THIS is the reality of encounters with the Holy One:  we are at once soothed and agitated.

 

And when it comes to giving, Christ does this to all of us, does he not?

 

We all want to feel secure.  We want to exercise wisdom and plan ahead.  We stock up for a rainy day.  We prepare for as many possible outcomes as we can.

And then Jesus tells us to share.
To share! 

 

And we get defensive.  We feel like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to come get the party started:  we tell our unplanning comrades to go get their own supplies!  And this is another image given to us by Christ!  Christ commends those who plan and live expectantly.  But Christ also gives us other dichotomous stories, and we have instructions such as these from Paul – calling each of us to give according to our means “that the rich may not be too rich and the poor not too poor.

Doesn’t this feel a bit unfair?
After all, haven’t we earned what we have?  Deserved it?  Worked hard and planned ahead for it?

But God appears less concerned about our sensibilities of fairness and more concerned that everyone have enough. 

Can we say the same?
Are we less concerned with fairness than that everyone have enough??

 

Again, Christ challenges our sensibilities – at once soothing and irritating.

 

Have you heard the reports that during Covid the super-rich have become even richer?  Do you imagine this to be the case for most of us?
And how often do we see that these enormous proceeds return to the workers, the ordinary people?  Do we ever??

Jesus Christ would likely have been quickly labeled a socialist.  After all, he advises the rich man to sell everything he owns and to give it to the poor.  That sounds pretty socialist – or even communist – to me.

But here in this scripture passage, we see that the goal is not for the rich to become poor and the poor to become rich.  No.  That is what we saw in most violent succession in Communist China.  That is not what I hear Paul advocating.

What I hear is God’s concern for ALL – that each have enough, not too little nor too much.

 

And if we believe that God has our very best interest in mind – I mean truly believe it – then might we take a cue from this scripture?  Might we gather that having too much can be as detrimental as having too little?  Might we recall Jesus’ words that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

Yikes

It seems that having too much may in fact be even more detrimental to our well-being than having too little.  And here we even have Paul lifting up the worldly impoverished faith community in Macedonia – for their exceeding generosity – giving according to their means, and then more-so, eager to take part in the life-giving work of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Is it not true that quite often those poorest in things are simultaneously those richest in faith?!

 

And so this command to give and to share of our wealth, time, and talents is not a call to pick our wallets or a call to communism.

No, this is a call to wellbeing,
a call to wholeness and fullness of life,
a call to “eternal” life = quality of life.

For the Kingdom comes, the Kindom of God comes, and is made present and real among us and in us, when we – like the Macedonians – eagerly join in the work of God around us, giving as we have means and in great joy.

Thus, is it any wonder that it is more blessed to give than to receive?!  The proof – the blessing – is in the pudding!

 

May each one of us,
listen
for the booming voice that comes in clouds on a mountaintop,
for that steady voice that quiets the storms ravaging our shores,
for that still small voice in the silent and solitary moments,
and may we choose
to trust
that in giving
we receive
in good measure,
pressed down,
shaken together,
running over!

 

 

 

 

Prayers
The Talmud
You who are at home, deep in my heart,
Enable me to join you, deep in my heart.

-Gaelic
As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my log hide the shining of your face from me.  Yet, if I may hold your hand in the darkness, it is enough.  Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going, you do not fall.

 

 

 

“Boasting In Our Sufferings”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 5:1-5

 

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

 

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 



 

This passage from Romans challenges the way we approach suffering in our society.

 

It is common belief that you reap what you sow.

And where did that idea come from?

Well,… probably everywhere.  It’s the idea behind Karma.  And it is quite literally in the Bible.

There is truth to that statement.  We do reap the consequences of our actions.  But how-much-so does vary by situation.  Some folks, who you can easily and quickly think of, seem to have far more than their fair share of suffering.  And o-so-many have suffering we dare not ever attribute to the result of their actions or inactions, sins, or mis-steps.

 

While we do reap what we sow.  Life has shown us that that’s not always how things go.  Some folks seem to prosper in doing evil.  We can look at any number of big corporations to see that.  In our Old Testament reading today, we glimpsed a merciful ending to the crazy story of Joseph.  While God indeed used all the evil dealt on Joseph for good, Joseph suffered more than most of us will ever know – sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned for many years…

So it is clear that while we do reap what we sow.  Sometimes, we do not.  And perhaps many times, true justice or fairness may only come in the hereafter.

 

But I will tell you why I think this idea of reaping what we sow is so strongly engrained in our sub-consciousness as a society.  It’s because whenever bad things happen to us, we are mesmerized and incensed.  We slam our hands down; it isn’t fair!  We protest with righteous indignation.

We expect that if we do good, we will receive good.

And when we don’t get it, we get mad.

Often we even take it further:  we question what we did wrong.  We wonder where we went wrong to get such a bad outcome.  We rehearse and review moments and years and decades in our minds.  We turn a situation over and over in our imaginations.  We try to figure out why something bad happened.  We are trying to prevent it from happening again.  We hope to learn from the experience and change our future.  And we are grappling with feelings of inadequacy, shame, or guilt for being unsuccessful.

 

Now sometimes, these feelings are well founded in reality:  we have indeed made poor choices and we will do well to learn from them as much as we can.  But other times, this guilt and shame are entirely misplaced.

This is what happens with victims of assault, violence, and violation.  Quite often the victims feel ashamed – as if what happened to them has made them dirty, as if they somehow were flawed to begin with to have had this happen to them.  They, in fact, rehearse the horrid scenes over and over in their minds, searching to make sense out of what has happened.

 

And I think that’s the key to our responses when bad things happen – we want to make sense of them. 

 

We want to believe that we live in a world that is right and just.  We want to believe that good will happen to the good and evil will come to those who perpetrate evil.  We want to believe that we have power over our world and our lives. 

But, experience shows us that this kind of justice and fairness do not yet cover the earth.  This Kingdom of God living, where justice reigns and peace makes its home in our hearts – this Kingdom is ever coming and ever not-yet-here.  It comes in the actions and persistence and diligence, and compassion, and fierceness of those following the Spirit of God in this world.  But in many, many other realms, justice and peace and wholeness are not yet the reality.

And so no, we do not always reap what we sow.

And as much as we want to believe it to be true.  In loving kindness to both ourselves and one another, we must allow that it is also true that injustice and evil also wield their might and bring death and destruction.  We do not fully control or have power over the outcomes in our lives.

 

Now why have I delved into such a tricky topic after such an inspiring verse as this passage from Romans?

I have done it because I think Christian culture in America has a problem with “boasting in our sufferings.”  Christian culture in America will far sooner shame or judge those suffering than recognize, that for some, if not many, their suffering is undeserved and unjust.  Their suffering is a symptom of our societal sins, and not their own personal sins.

We suffer for the sins of one another, not just our own sins.  We suffer when someone in power lacks the courage to stand up to injustice.  We suffer when company’s and individuals think that to win someone else must lose.  We suffer when anyone tries to store up for themselves all the world’s wealth, without a mindfulness and compassion to their fellow human beings.  When one of us weeps, we all weep.  When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice.  …that is also in the Bible.

We affect one another.  But I believe that in our grasping to understand and order our world, in order to make sense of our experiences, we rush to blame.  We rush to explain.  We rush to judge.  We rush to dismiss.

And in-so-doing, we deal ourselves and one another death-blows.  We hit ourselves and one another when we’re down, when we’re at our lowest points.

And that is an even greater injustice.

 

Christ instructs us not to quench a smoldering wick.  In other words, when someone is down, do not push them flat to the ground, do not trample them further, do not break their back and their spirit.

But when we judge…  And when we shame…  And when we reach to explain the evil and suffering we see wreaking havoc in the lives of our brothers and sisters, we quite often are doing just that – breaking their spirit, piling on.

 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is counseling us to do just the opposite of this.

Instead of our hiding our suffering in shame.  Instead of tightening the hatchets and closing all the blinds.  Instead of isolating ourselves further when we need the most help – lest we be judged on top of it all…  we are instead to BOAST in our sufferings. 

 

What?!?!??

Boast?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Who in our society would BOAST in their sufferings?

The only place I’ve seen it consistently done, are in cultures and segments of our society that have known long-suffering.  Those whose descendants were enslaved, for example.  Or those cultures subject to genocide and discrimination.

And WE need to learn from these segments of our society.

 

How can WE become a community of faith that BOASTS in our suffering…

Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

 

IF WE can become a community that LIVES this advice of Paul,

That speaks out our sufferings,

Without fear or shame

Worry or judgement,

Then perhaps we will open the doors to SEE and HEAR and WITNESS God’s mighty acts among us.

 

For GOD IS DOING A MIGHTY WORK.

 

But we will only have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive it,

When we create a community safe enough

For each of us to be our authentic selves

Without judgement.

 

Perhaps then, a brave soul, would dare share with us the pearls quarried from the depths of their exquisite pain and suffering.

Perhaps then, we will hear and pay attention, and learn to see

Just WHAT our God can do.