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“Blind Sight”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Kings 17:1-16
Luke 4:16-30

 

1 Kings 17:1-16

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

 

Luke 4:16-30

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


 

I love this passage about Jesus in the synagogue at his home town.  I love the passage he reads from Isaiah.  That passage has always resonated with me.

But this passage is loaded.  One minute Jesus is reading from the scroll of Isaiah and the next he is evading an angry mob of the villagers he grew up with, who are leading him out of town and to the edge of the cliff, that they might hurl him off it.

This is serious stuff.

 

What made them so angry?  Jesus has said so little.

But has he?

 

First off, after reading the part of Isaiah about how God’s Spirit is upon him to do all these good things, Jesus boldly says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled, in your hearing.”  Jesus is essentially claiming God’s power and presence with him to do good works among them.  Jesus is speaking the truth.

Everywhere else, folks are saying as much about him.  Everywhere he goes, folks are amazed at God’s presence in him, God’s works through him, God’s Word spoken to them.  But here, the crowd is harder to impress.  Still, at first, they are enjoying his words and feeling quite pleased.  But only a sentence or two more, and the whole dynamic shifts.

And why?  Jesus’ own explanation is that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.

And why is that?

I think it’s because we think we know the person.  We think we have them figured out.  There is not mystery.  There is no wonder.  We know who their parents are.  We know all their siblings.  We’ve been to their house.  What’s there to get so excited about?!?

 

Well, perhaps Jesus’ words so far wouldn’t have gotten him killed.  Perhaps they would have.  He’s definitely claiming to be a prophet, at the very least.  But it doesn’t sound blasphemous to them, as it would in later days.  No, I think what got this crowd all riled up is in the words that come next.  Jesus says,

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Here, Jesus alludes to two Old Testament stories.  These are scriptures the people would have known well.  Most likely these Israelite listeners would have heard them and wondered at God’s mighty works through this most famous prophet Elijah.  But Jesus points to another thread in these stories:  the fact that the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts were all OUTSIDE the nation of Israel, people from Lebanon and Syria.

The widow of Sidon (current-day Lebanon) and the leper from Syria are the beneficiaries of God’s mighty acts here through Elijah, not any of the many lepers or widows from among the people of Israel.  Jesus hones in on this point.  And without words, the offense is palpable.  Jesus seems to directly point out the lack of faith of the people of Israel, and particularly his own hometown.  Instead Jesus is lifting up outsiders as models of faith.

The author of Hebrews has defined faith as,

“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

 

These hometown neighbors have known Jesus, his whole life.  They think they know him.   And so they have no faith.   And their lack of faith means that Jesus cannot perform any acts or wonders among them.  They are not in a position to believe or receive the working of God, standing in their midst.  And all because they think they see.  They think they know. 

 

Just as with Elijah, others are benefitting from God’s mighty works, because they have come in hope and faith.  They have come open.  They have come seeking.

And GOD meets them.

 

We are a community of faith.  We come from many different walks of life.  We come from different backgrounds and faith experiences.  Some of us are brand new to this place.  Others of us have been here since we were born.

But we all come to faith,

We all come to community,

We all come to church,

With our set of baggage.

 

Many of us have “been there, done that” so much, that we are sure we can predict an outcome with a fair amount of certainty.

But do we also realize that our predictions,

Can seal our fate?

Do we also realize that our foresight,

Can restrict our outcomes.

Do we also realize that our SEEING,

Can be our blindness?

 

In life, the ability to predict outcomes can protect us from many things.  It has in fact probably kept us alive until this point.

But reducing our lives of faith to natural, human outcomes completely eliminates God from the mix.  Assessing the situation using the facts and circumstances we can see, leaves out the possibility of what GOD may do

THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO THINGS THAN WE CAN SEE.

 

So will we be those

Who stand in the presence of the living God

Closed, and certain, and offended?

 

Or will we be like the Lebanese woman and Syrian man,

Seeking

Open

Watching

Waiting

Hoping for God.

 

Can we be a people, ever mindful that there is more to this life than we can see

Ever mindful that there is more to God than we can know

Ever mindful that there is more going on that we can perceive…

 

And will we be a people hoping and expecting, watching and waiting for God to show up?

And shake things up

And leave us amazed?

…In our lives

And in this place?

 

When the voice of God calls to us,

As it did through Elijah to that Lebanese widow gathering sticks to cook her final meal,

     Will we have ears to hear?

Will we dare to hope?

Will we take the leap of faith?

 

Who will we be? 

“A Little Child Shall Lead Them”

Rev. Katherine Todd
James 4:1-8a
Mark 9:33-37

James 4:1-8a

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Mark 9:33-37

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


 

This teaching of Jesus told by Mark is unique.  It doesn’t seem to hold together fully.  First the disciples are talking about who’s the greatest – to which Jesus says that “whoever wants to be first much be last of all and servant of all.”  And then Jesus adds on this seemingly unrelated object lesson.  Jesus takes a little child among them and cradling the child in his arms says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

And here I am left in a whirl.  Did Jesus really say all this back to back, in a seemingly related way?  Why did Mark present these familiar words of Jesus in such close context, when they don’t appear to be related?  Did these two seemingly unrelated teachings indeed hinge on one another, and did Mark see them as informative of one another?

You see Jesus’ object lesson feels totally out of the blue.  I would have expected Jesus to instead point to the last person standing in line or the servant in their midst for his object lesson.  Those would illustrate his point – showing folks WHO among them are truly greatest – and helping them see that all the rationale they had for ranking themselves and one another was utterly useless in God’s eyes.

But Mark says Jesus brings a little child among them.  The child is the object lesson.  And this is not simply in Mark’s account; Matthew and Luke also tell this story, and while each presents it slightly differently with slightly different take-aways, each time Jesus answers the disciples’ arguments about who is greater with a little child.

Matthew spells out that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is humble like a little child.  Childlike humility is lifted up as key to both entering God’s kingdom and being great in the kingdom.

Luke quotes Jesus as saying the very same words as Mark’s account:  “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And that is it.  No talk about being the last or the servant of all.

So these three parallel Gospel accounts tell of Jesus leaping from this story of the disciples’ one-up-man-ship followed by the object lesson of a little child.  In Matthew it’s the humility of a little child.  In Luke it’s simply the receiving of the Kingdom of God as would a little child, and in Mark it’s being the last and a servant that seems related to children receiving the Kingdom of God.

 

Now, all this talk about the Kingdom of God is an important frame of reference.  For Jesus is very specifically holding God’s ways in juxtaposition to the world’s ways.

We learn quickly in life that we need to hurry up and grow up.  While parents and grandparents tell us to savor our youth and its shelter from the worries and troubles of the world, we know that immaturity and naivete are marks against us.  We are encouraged to “be realistic.”  We are told to set down our dreams in exchange for sucking up “the real world.”  Saying what we think, without filtering it, is frowned upon.  Showing too much emotion is frowned upon.  Loosing yourself in the joy of a moment is frowned upon.  Children are keenly aware that their position is one of lesser.

We give them toy phones, but they want the real deal.  We give them toy pots and pans, but they want to play with the real ones.  Children yearn for the autonomy, self-determination, freedoms, respect, and powers afforded to adults.  And so we all rush to reach this pinnacle of power and respect.

Children have a lot more today than in Jesus’ day.  They are no longer seen as the property of their fathers.  They have rights.  Some parents and families have placed their children at the centermost part of their lives, so that all activities revolve around the children.  Many parents now allow their children voice and choice in the details of their lives.  Things have dramatically changed so children are not so fully at the bottom of the pyramid of power as they were in former days, but they are still under the authority of the grown-ups in their lives.  They still are keenly aware that they “should” be more mature, more realistic, less emotional, more reliable…  And the list goes on.

Children are ever aware of their own inadequacies, their dependence, their incompleteness.

Children who have experienced the loving provision of their guardians TRUST.  They trust that all will be well, that their needs can and will be met.

And Jesus is holding these small humans up, as pictures of what WE need to be. 

WE need to be keenly aware of our inadequacies.  We need to be humble.  We need to stop and recognize our dependence on God and one another.  We need to realize we are incomplete without God and one another.

WE need to trust, that God is true to God’s Word.  We need to dream God’s dreams and see the Lord’s visions.  We need to trust in things never before seen.

We need to let go of the preconceptions we hold about one another – the ranking, the judging, the partiality…  We need to come like little children – open to the world and everyone in it.

 

And how shall we do this?!?

It seems like the older I get, the more reason I have for skepticism and disappointment.

But GOD is calling us to live in a new reality.

Right now.

God’s Kingdom is not this idyllic world in the clouds, far away, and only accessible after we die.  Christ himself taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The Kingdom is not for later.  The Kingdom is for now.

The Kingdom is for now. 

The world’s ways are ever with us.  The world’s wisdom is always speaking.  Evil and injustice color our ways of seeing the world and our neighbors.

But Christ is saying that God has another way altogether, and if we want to be part of it, WE CANNOT ACCESS IT by doing what we have always done.  WE CANNOT ACCESS IT using the same mindset that we’ve mastered in the school of the world.

RATHER, we need to grow down.  To grow down.  We need to re-write the scripts in our minds with God’s truth.  We need to re-write the lessons of the world with God’s lessons.  We need new eyes to see our neighbors and ourselves, as God sees each one.

And we will do well, if we take some cues from those little humans among us who are our children and our children’s children.

Those little humans who are so naïve and incomplete.  Those little humans who are so honest in their displays of joy and anger alike…

 

SO, what do we do with this?

This is more than a nod of reverence to our kids.

This is more than doting over our children’s successes and smiling through their honest attempts and mis-steps.

No, we are called to BRING IN the KINGDOM OF GOD by being as little children. 

Trusting God and God’s Word.

Believing God’s wisdom over our own.

Being open to the new people and opportunities God brings into our lives.

Expecting to be surprised.

Looking for God to do something new, that we’ve never seen before…

 

In response to the school shootings happening with too much frequency in our nation, a student decided to form a No Kid Eats Alone Club.  Recognizing that hurting people hurt other people, this student made it his mission to reach out to those who didn’t have a group to eat with.  And the group has grown.  Every lunch period, they invite anyone who is sitting alone to join them for lunch.  As the group grows, more and more students are mobilizing to speak with the folks at their schools are who are isolated and alone.  And it is making all the difference.  It is creating belonging where there was rejection.  It is creating community where there was isolation.  It is fostering understanding where there was misunderstanding.

And it is growing.  New students are taking it to their schools and forming their own No One Eats Alone clubs.

These kids are bringing in the Kingdom of God.  Despite humankind’s years of experience living into the pecking order, accepting bullying, accepting cliques, these students are creating a new reality in their school lunchrooms.  They are turning one of the most divisive hours of the school day into a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary.

They are doing the work of church. 

 

Friends, we will not enter the Kingdom of God, unless we do so as little children. 

If you are longing for QUALITY of life

If you’ve been searching your whole life for rest and goodness, justice and joy

If you once dreamed of a whole and equitable world

GOOD!  God has been calling out to you.

And as much as it may feel like a pipe dream – with all you’ve seen and heard –

YOU are called to help make that world a reality.

 

You won’t do it by doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Take a cue from our children; they are always inventing new ways!

We will get there by creating a new world together, one dream, one act of trust, one vision, one step of faith, one heart of openness, one act of repentance and humility, one honest word, one act of justice…at a time. 

 

God is counting on you and on me.  And we don’t have to be complete & perfect & all wise.

We just need to know that the Lord of Heaven and earth has us in the palm of Christ’s hands, and has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a future of hope.

 

May we grow down and learn how to live and move in God’s ways.  For we cannot be both a friend of the world and a friend of God.

We must choose.