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“Gratitude – Bringing Truth into Focus”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 78:1-16
Exodus 17:1-7

 

Psalm 78:1-16

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

The Ephraimites, armed with[a] the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

 

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

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

 

 

We have been following the story of the Israelites, from Jacob to Moses this summer, and it is ever so striking how faithless the people, these chosen ones, God’s people, seem to be.  Is it any wonder they also experience God’s wrath – as they, who have been blessed so abundantly, stray so very far from God’s ways and God’s heart?!

Finally, under Moses’ leadership, the nation has been liberated from the heavy hand of Egypt, but despite having witnessed God’s judgement on Egypt in sign and wonder and heart-break; despite having narrowly escaped the full military power of Egypt, crossing the very Red Sea on foot, while the waters ceased their flow on both sides of them; despite receiving manna in the morning and quail in the evening the people still doubt God.  The people still complain.  The people still fear for their well-being.  They fear they will not have…food and pleasure and provision.

Can you believe it? 
Would you be changed if you’d walked through a corridor of water, held back by the hand of God, saving your life in the nick of time?
Would you be changed if you were rescued out of slavery?!

It is easy to point the finger.

 

And yet,…
What about you?
What about me?

 

As for myself, I was blessed to be raised in a family of God-fearing parents.  I was sheltered from many a storm and heartache because of that.

And each summer, though my parents could not afford anything extra, my church gave me and each of my siblings scholarships to attend the area Presbyterian Camp, where I came alive!  It was there in my final summer, that I felt God’s call to ministry.

And most every summer my church or my family would make their way to Montreat Conference Center, in the mountains of North Carolina.  There we’d rock hop, explore old micah mines, hike, sing, and wade in the cold crisp mountain stream.  The camping option there always gave us a way in, even though the hotel was out of reach.  And to this day, Montreat is where my heart feels home.

When my parents split up and my heart felt it was splitting in two, my youth minister showed me great love, calling me every single morning, before school, to pray with me.  She knew I needed the support.  And she led us in Bible Study, which I was really finding delicious, for the first time.  She taught us that it wasn’t about religion at all but about relationship, a relationship with God, and that made all the difference.

And I was blessed to attend Presbyterian College, where I got to learn from amazing professors in my fields, of religion, philosophy, and music.  There, I got to ask all the hard questions, put my faith on the line, come to end of myself, and find that God was still the most real thing in all the world to me.

A year later I got to attend Union Presbyterian Seminary and explore my faith further – hoping to find all the answers but rather uncovering more and more questions.  Faith would have to grow or fade.  And again I would have the chance to face the demons in our spiritual closets, to face difficult scripture passages, and to continue on my slow journey of trusting God in the process of my life.

And though I’d felt called to ministry at 16, I couldn’t see the path forward at the time.  I was deeply shy, introspective, introverted, soft-spoken.  I couldn’t see how I could be used by God for such work.  I thought being gregarious and funny, outgoing and extraverted were all necessary for the job.  But I trusted that if God called me, God would equip me.  And twenty years from the time of my calling, I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) at Camp Hanover.  Despite many doubts, much time, unforeseen obstacles, and test after test after examination, God fulfilled this call in my life.  What a tremendous gift!

 

Now, most often when I recall my childhood, I will recall how I felt bullied most all the time.  I recall being excluded by church “friends” from events and conversation.  I recall being looked down on as a scrawny kid, the slowest in my age group on swim team.  I recall playing softball and being sometimes lovingly and sometimes meanly mocked for my “positive” way of encouraging each player up at bat.

I recall how my family never had new things.  We never had new school supplies or clothes.  We frequently window shopped – which meant looking and not buying.  And if we did buy, it was at the discount Sears store, but most often we merely window shopped,…there.  I recall our stopping at the day-old bakery to buy almost-gone goodies – where you were in a race with time to eat it before it molded.  I still can recall the taste of moldy powdered doughnuts!  I recall the way my Mom made a little last a long, long way  – cutting mold off cheese, making milk from powder, and eating week-old leftovers.

I recall my hatred of sixth grade when I was bused to a magnet school for music – two hours there, two hours back – only to be a magnet for other’s abuse.  I recall how the Assistant Principal at my middle school called me into her office one day to ask if I was okay.  I was shocked that she could see how very depressed I was.  Ostracized by my peers, I had learned to make friends with the friend-less, but I felt very alone.

And I can go on and on.

 

These experiences of pain and suffering make their indelible mark, do they not? 

And yet, through-out all the food-stretching, I saw my mom make jam & the best cookies on the planet.  We enjoyed dollar movies at the discount movie theater and my Mom would carry in all kinds of snacks for us to enjoy – smuggled in, in a baby diaper bag (long after diapers were a things of the past!).

Through-out all the school isolation, I did know friendship.  I had a best friend in 1st grade, till she moved away.  I had a best friend in 2nd and 3rd, until a new student convinced her that it was not okay for her, a black girl, to hang with me, a white girl.  And in late middle school, a new girl transferred to the school who was already “pre-engaged” to a high schooler.  It seemed she had done all the forbidden things, as she was from the countryside where it seemed folks had nothing else to do but drink and make out.  So she started out at our school as a pariah, but she became my friend.  And in high school, I finally made the best friend I’d ever had:  Jane Trexler.  She lived in my neighborhood & was the opposite of me.  I was invisible.  She was popular.  I was shy.  She was student body president.  I was skin and bones.  She looked lovely and mature.  And we walked – walked around our neighborhood – we shared life and faith and friendship.

I did find my way. 

I knew friendship. 

I had food to eat. 

I had shelter. 

 

I was blessed. 

 

What about you?
When you look back, what do you recall?

 

It is easiest to recall the pain.  It is easiest to recall the injustice, the unfairness, the times we’ve felt slighted and hurt.  That is natural.

 

But do we also recall the times we are blown away by God – like when my youth minister called me every morning at 6:30 am, just to pray with me?

Do we recall when we are surprised by God – like when my family went to the state fair and a church friend happened to show up, giving us free tickets?!

Do we recall when God rescues us from the disasters that the befall us – like when the Presbyterian Board of Pensions helped me pay unexpected medical bills?

Do we recall when God rescues us from the disasters we may bring on ourselves – like when God woke me up from my slumber and led me out of a marriage where I endured continual emotional abuse and was slowly dying to my true self?

 

Our God is alive.
Our God is moving.
God is showing up for each of us, in ways big and small.

But if we do not consciously REMEMBER this stories, TELL these stories, RECALL these stories…we forget.  We become lost at sea – terrified by the next dark cloud up ahead.

THESE moments of God’s mighty provision, God’s mighty rescue, God’s mighty presence and power are touchstones – they are grounding, they are re-orienting, they put things into perspective, they bring the truth into focus.

 

If I only focus on the bad things I have endured, I have a big bone to pick with God.  WHY did I have to endure such bullying, such ostracizing, such loneliness?  WHY did I have to endure scarcity and want?  WHY did I have to go through the breaking up of my family?

BUT when I choose to remember God’s acts through-out my life, I know God is with me.  God’s hands are present – in comfort, in manna and quail, in prayer, in friendship, in growth, in meaning, in calling, in overcoming, in drawing me near!  When I choose to remember God’s acts through-out my life, I see how very blessed I am.  I see that God had the past, and that I can trust God for whatever may lie ahead. 

 

REMEMBERING grounds us.
REMEMBERING sheds light on the truth.
REMEMBERING helps us not loose our way, through the stormy seas of life.

 

Like the Israelites, we too have been mightily blessed, mightily rescued, mightily known, mightily loved and called.  But just like the Israelites, unless we choose to recall God’s mighty acts, we too become ungrateful, entitled, fearful, demanding,…lost.

 

We must choose remembrance.

We must choose to share.

We must choose to recall.

 

That’s what these gratitude stories have been about.  For it is in building a spiritual practice of gratitude, that we remember and give thanks.  And these are the stories that remind us who we are and whose we are. 

 

May we be a people,
Chosen and beloved
Who remember and share,
The mighty acts of God.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Psalm 91:1-6, 9

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

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

 

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

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

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


 

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

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

The writer of 1 Peter gives this advice:

1 – Humble yourselves

2 – Casts your anxieties on God

3 – Discipline yourselves

4 – Resist the devil

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

“The Audacity of Hope”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 91
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

 

Psalm 91

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

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

 

 

This is some radical hope.

Can you even start to imagine it?

In our world, an election approaches and everyone gets nervous about the real estate market & every other kind of market.  Things slow.  People get nervous.  People stop spending.

 

Can you imagine then what is going on as Jeremiah accepts his cousin’s request to buy land?

Jerusalem is besieged.  Besieged.  And by the army of Babylon, no less.  No one in.  No one out.

This isn’t the whole of Israel or Judah, no.  This is merely the capital city.  That means that much of their land – the more indefensible parts – are already overrun.  All that is left is the city, Jerusalem.  And IT is besieged.

 

And here comes Jeremiah’s cousin, asking Jeremiah to buy some land out in the land of Benjamin.

Can you picture it?

They do not know if they will still be in power day by day, much less alive.  And here comes this cousin asking Jeremiah to buy land that he can’t even get to (and may never see).

 

It is weird.  NO ONE in their right mind would do it?  Right?

This is so far beyond worry surrounding an election.  This is next level.  This is the United States overrun by another country & the last of the people holding out in Richmond, lets just say.  Richmond alone is left.  Society as we know it, completely uncertain, totally unraveling around our eyes.  Can you imagine it?

 

But God speaks to Jeremiah about his cousin’s request, before it happens.  God speaks.  God does that thing that God does, speaking to those who dare to listen…and to follow.  God tells Jeremiah this will happen.  And so when it does, Jeremiah recognizes that this insane request is from God.  GOD is working through this.

 

SO, in a time when everyone is closing their windows and locking their doors.  When folks are burying money under their homes.  When folks are ceasing to buy and trade…  THIS is when Jeremiah buys a piece of land that he can’t get to and may never see.

Because God tells him too.

 

Wild huh?

 

Truly this is when we might call social services on our relatives…making such an irrational decision.  But God had gotten Jeremiah’s attention, and Jeremiah trusted that God was in it.

So he follows.

 

He buys the land,

Publicly, in the presence of many witnesses.

 

And then he turns immediately,

Also in the presence of those same witnesses,

And gives both copies of the deed to Baruch,

Who he charges to seal in an earthenware jar, to last for a long time.

 

For it would be a long time,

But they would again buy and sell land in the promised land.

 

And with this mic drop, Jeremiah finishes.

 

 

Jeremiah has just done two very bizarre things.  He has bought property at the eve of societal collapse, AND he then gives it away.

He grabs everyone’s attention.  And while they are all watching in disbelief, he speaks God’s word to them, God’s word of hope:  “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

 

If you aren’t familiar with Jeremiah, he was a strait shooter.  He spoke things plainly, how God showed them to him.  He told the people about their sins and how they would be taken by siege.  In fact, he delivered “bad” news so often that folks got fed up with hearing him speak at all.  He was left in a pit for awhile because he just wouldn’t stop telling people things they didn’t want to hear.

Jeremiah knew that his people would be carried away into captivity by Babylon.  And as much as folks wanted to dismiss his words as fake news, he was speaking God’s word to them.  And everything he spoke would come true.

And when God instructs Jeremiah to buy this land, knowing full well he would never enjoy it, he obeys.  He follows.

And God uses it to speak a message of hope to the people.

 

Now of course, this wasn’t the message of hope they were likely looking for.  I’m fairly certain they wanted to hear that the entire Babylonian army would die from a plague and they would be set free.  I am sure they wanted to hear that the army would be recalled to fight some other battle in some other land.

 

This was not Jeremiah’s message.

But Jeremiah’s message was one of hope, profound hope.

EVEN THOUGH, they would be exiled for many, many years…  Even though their tears would be their food…  Even though they would be with strangers in a strange land, they would survive.  And they would once again return to their home,… and buy and sell land.

 

Now I realize that folks have many opinions and feelings about the nation of Israel today and the much-contested promised land.  I do not pretend to know the solutions to all that plagues this corner of our world today.  And I ache for those who have known long-suffering and instability.

But let me invite you to look past all this for a moment, and to imagine how Jeremiah’s words might stick with you

…when you are stripped and chained to your neighbors, marching one by one to another land against your will

…when you are resettled in a place you don’t want to be, despised and discriminated against.

…when your life is on hold for years, waiting for some deliverance than never seems to come

…when your children are starting to marry and make this foreign land their home…

How would Jeremiah’s words stick with you? 

 

Through the incredible obedience of his servant Jeremiah, God has gives his people a vision of the end, that does not lie.  God gives the people a question mark over all the upsetting events of their present day lives.  God gives the people a ray of hope in their darkened tunnels.  God gives the people the audacity of hope.

 

Now I do not know the situations and circumstances and people who have your insides turning into knots.  I do not the know what armies besiege your wellbeing, your finances, your families…  I do not know how you have felt trapped, no movement in, no movement out.  But our God does.

And our God continues to speak to us, out of the depths of our pain and waiting.

 

I invite you to open yourself to God, to ask God to speak into your circumstances and relationships and then to wait, to be quiet, to invite your mind to slow and pay attention, and to listen …for God’s word to you.

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.’ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Getting Real”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 22
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;[b]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life[c] from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

 

2 Corinthians 12

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.


 

In this Psalm of David, we hear David crying out from the depths of his own desperation.  He is so malnourished, he can count all his bones.  His situation is so very bad that he imagines his bones vying for his pieces of clothing – as though they foresee his end is near and want to make sure they all get a cut of his remnants.  He is so thirsty, his tongue sticks to his jaw.  He feels God has laid him out in the dust of death!  Everyone who sees him, mocks him.  They respond with religious-sounding canned answers.  They imply that his situation is the will of the Lord.  He feels encircled by the strong, who open their mouths at him, like roaring lions, and his heart melts within his chest.  There is no one to help.

 

I cannot imagine things getting so very bad as David is experiencing them, without the rescue of the Lord.  We hear in God’s word that he rescues those who love God.  We hear God saves our feet from the trap.  We hear that a thousand arrows will fall to one’s left and one’s right, but that none will touch the Lord’s beloved…  So why do we have these experiences?!?

Why does God let us get to the dust of death?  Why do we call out yet find no rest!?!!

 

Sometimes I feel like God is not keeping God’s Word to us.

(As though I’ve ever kept up my end of the bargain)

 

Sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing enough.

(As though I possess the wisdom to counsel GOD)

 

And I feel ashamed of these feelings.  I try to hide these feelings.  I do not give them voice…

And yet they rise up within me!

 

Why are the innocent suffering?!?

Why are children dying!?!

Why are our relationships so broken!?!

Why are entire lives wasted?!?

 

Why do the just suffer?

Why are the giving, exploited!?

Why are the tender-hearted abused?

Why are moments of beauty so momentary?

 

I am learning something new from David.

David was very clearly at the end of his rope.  David HAD BEEN crying out to God!…

And yet he cried out still!

Truly, he persevered in prayer, with a God, for whom he felt both love and anger, trust and bewilderment!

He KEPT CRYING OUT to God.

 

Second, David does not soften his feelings toward God.  He accuses God of forsaking him.  He complains at God for bringing him no relief, though he has cried out, day after day.  David knows God to be the one who does not forsake his children, the faithful one who hears, the one who cares…and yet none of this feels true in his life at the moment and he brings this up with God.  David confronts God.

How many of us do this?  Do we feel too ashamed to be that real with God?  Do we know the “right” things to say and feel…so much so that we do not even know the REAL things we are feeling or needing to say?  Do we trust God to still love us even if we let it all hang out?  Do we trust that nothing, indeed nothing, can separate us from the love of God?

 

A third thing I am observing is how David fluctuates between doubt and faith.

In one moment, he is complaining at God for forsaking him, for giving him no rest and in the next, he is remembering God’s faithfulness to his ancestors, God’s mighty acts and deliverance.

In one moment, he is complaining at how he is mocked and scorned by all who see him.  He quotes their prescriptions of spiritual wisdom – they who talk but do not help – and in the next, he remembers how faithful God has been to him, since his birth.

In one moment, he describes, in great detail, just how very bad things are and how alone he is.  In the next, he begins again to cry out yet again for God to save him.

We see a man wrestling with what it means that God is faithful and that he himself is suffering, that God provides and yet he himself is lacking, that God hears and yet he himself feels forsaken!

And I relate.

 

And then, when we see just how truly low David is, we hear this turn in his Psalm,

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

In the middle of this Psalm, there is a turn, God delivers, God provides, and David is filled with praise saying “the Lord has done it!”

 

And in all this, David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

This David

Who trusted and feared,

Gave thanks and complained,

Remembered God’s faithfulness and questioned God’s faithfulness…

This David

 

Perhaps there is hope for us.

 

I want to share with you a story by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.  A physician and a woman living with a chronic illness herself, Rachael is a counselor to both physicians and patients.  In this story, she shares the crisis one young man brought to her (p 39).

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 39

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 40 41

 

We can expend all our energy trying to be what we think God wants us to be,

Trying to feel what we think God wants us to feel,

Trying to act how we think God wants us to act.

But this is not what we see in this honest, raw, passionate Psalm of David.  And God does not abandon him in this, rejecting him for his anger and doubt, despising him for his weakness, …but rather God delivers him!

 

Perhaps, WE are enough.  Perhaps our anger, our questions, our faith, our hope, our disappointment, our feelings of betrayal, our feelings of abandonment, our swells of overwhelming joy and rejoicing….

Perhaps

We

Are enough.

 

Perhaps we can stop striving

To be

To say

To act…

And just be,

resting in God’s unending love for us,

And knowing that WE are enough,

because GOD is enough.

 

Amen.

“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.