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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. 

 

 

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

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!

“Look Up”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 5:6b-11
Luke 13:31-35

 

Romans 5:6b-11

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”


 

In this passage from Luke, Jesus speaks for most of the passage.  He’s responding to those who are telling him to flee for his life from Herod, but then his answer focuses less on Herod and more on Jerusalem, which he portrays as central to this salvation drama and his own story.  In a foreshadowing manner, Jesus alludes to his death in Jerusalem, Jesus speaks to the significance of three days, and to those words of the chanting crowd when at last he will enter Jerusalem.

It’s as if he takes the opportunity of those advising him to flee to assure everyone that things will happen in the place and order in which they are intended, and that neither Herod, nor anyone else, can derail what will be.

It’s also as if Jesus maximizes this opportunity to paint a clearer and clearer picture of Jerusalem.  Not only do they kill those God sends to them, Jesus says, but they refuse the comfort and protection of the most high, who only wants to gather them beneath the wings, and yet they are unwilling.  This is a sad picture.  And building off those final words of Jesus – the chants of blessing with which Jesus will be greeted on that Palm Sunday Jerusalem – how much more tragic is it, that these same ones chanting welcome and blessing would soon after be the same ones chanting “Crucify.  Crucify!”

 

As with a child who is angry and hurt and yet cannot be encouraged, protected, or comforted, the people of Jerusalem long for the salvation of God and yet cannot see it or receive it, even when their life depends on it.  They become the enemy of their own well-being.  They become the obstacle to their own redemption.  Tragedy, indeed!

 

This picture of Jerusalem as conflicted, reminds me of a parable in the writings of Medieval Anchoress, Julian of Norwich.  Anchoresses were women who had retreated from the world to live a life of prayer and meditation, alone in a cell.  Julian was an anchoress of The Church of St. Julien in Norwich.  Often when these women would become anchoresses, they would literally be walled into their cells along the sides of churches, and a funeral mass would be held for them, signifying their death to the world.

Though we know very little about Julien, we know that she became deathly ill at age 30.  To comfort her, a priest held out a crucifix before her, and as she teetered on the edge of death, she experienced 16 visions.  Julian miraculously recovered from the brink of death, and though she describes herself as illiterate, she recorded these visions into what we now have as a collection called, “Showings.”

In this book, she tells of a parable of a servant and his lord.  Listen to the parable.

3'17'19 Look Up Julien of Norwich excerpt

3'17'19 Look Up Julien of Norwich excerpt2

In this parable, we hear in the Lord’s desire to comfort the ashamed and hurting servant, God’s desire to comfort us, even as we try to serve God faithfully yet fail.  And this image of the servant, eager to please the Lord, yet fallen and hurting, unable to see the loving eyes of his Lord – I find this image so very moving.

 

How many times have we tried our best to follow God faithfully, and when we fail, we turn aside from God in shame and miss out on the loving gaze of our Lord, who still loves us infinitely, without stopping.

What beauty!

What tragedy!

How much suffering do we experience, simply because we do not re-connect with God when we make a mistake? 

How much pain do we experience because we do not see and receive God’s unfailing love?

 

And here, in these words of Jesus concerning Jerusalem, I see a similar situation:  the city representing the heart of a people who have been chosen by God and cultivated by God to bring the light of the world into being.  Here, we have a city called to be “a city on a hill” a “light to the nations,” and yet, their own clarity of vision is muddy and conflicted.  Their own ability to see and receive God’s presence and comfort is obscured by their willful arrogance.  Unlike the eager servant of the parable, they are not innocent, they have in some ways lost their way.  Instead of perceiving the point of all the rules and all the rituals, they have come to see the law as lip-nus tests, measuring sticks, righteousness meters…  They are lost, and they do not know it.  They cry out, they worship, they proclaim God’s name, but then they reject God’s word to them, kill God’s ambassadors to them – refusing the blessing and comfort, healing and protection that God’s Word has always been intended to bring them.

And so they sit,

Uncomforted

Unprotected

Yearning

Seeking, but not finding

Looking, but not seeing…

 

And Jesus’ parables in Luke keep restating and restating this tragedy.

 

And yet,

Christ comes to them anyway.

Even though they are lost and have missed the point.

Christ comes through them anyway.

 

Though they cannot see, they are seen.

Though they cannot love, they are loved…

 

And herein lies the Good News – that WHILE WE ARE SINNERS, Christ loves us anyway.  WHILE WE WERE SINNERS, Christ died for us.  WHILE WE ARE SINNERS, Christ reconciles us to God!

The good news!!

 

Each of us will fail – many, many times in this life.

 

And if we learn to look up,

To return to God,

To take shelter under the wings of our loving Lord,

We too can experience the loving mercy, unfailing love, and amazing grace of our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Whenever we find ourselves down, may we always remember…

to look up.