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“The Better Part”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 10:38-42
1 John 4:19

 

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.


 

I have heard this passage preached on so often, that I didn’t want to preach it.  I feel I could preach on it in my sleep, and if you’re like me, you start to tune out the things you’ve heard too often.  But on second thought I realized that this passage was appropriate for us because we have been very busy with many things.

Now I’d say most of what has occupied our time and energy, at least here, in this place, together, has been good things.  And I imagine that much of what fills your day to day, are good things.  But I imagine that you, like me, can loose sight of the important for the urgent.  You, like me, are probably not immune to the voices clamoring about you, asking for your time and attention.  And many of those voices are of those nearest and dearest to us, those we are charged to love and care for.  Some of those voices are the voices of others in this body of faith, asking if you might step up and step into roles of service in our community of faith.

 

Service is important.  Our Lord Jesus Christ served.  He served even those he was encouraged and expected to ignore.  Jesus’ life was service.  But in looking at the life of Jesus we also notice his life was that of rest and eating, retreating and being quiet and alone.  So many of the stories we hear of Jesus take place around a meal.  Some of the most striking stories occur when Jesus wakes from sleep to help folks who are facing life and death.   Or they occur when Jesus returns from leaving the disciples alone and finds them in a quandary or mess.  Countless stories of Jesus tell of him leaving the crowds with the disciples to rest and retreat.  And even more stories tell of Jesus retreating alone, and quite often to the top of a mountain.

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, knew his earthly need for rest and repose, eating and sleeping, intimate time among friends and intimate time alone with God.  JESUS needed these things.  Therefore, how much more-so do WE need these things?

 

In the story we read today, two sisters, Mary and Martha, host Jesus as he passes through the village.  Now as you might guess, hosting involves many things, not least of which is the preparing of food.  This task fell to women pretty exclusively, and it consumed the largest portion of any day.  So to invite others into the home meant doubling one’s work, at the very least.

Martha was probably the planner.  She probably knew exactly what this invitation would entail for them that day.  And she probably wanted to show as much honor and respect to the teacher as she could.  It was a daunting task, especially when you factor in all the visitors who would have come to hear the teacher.  She needed Mary’s help, but Mary, perhaps as flighty as I can be, was attuned to Jesus’ words.  She was soaking them in.  She did not think about all the work needing to be done.  She was lost in thought and in this person through whom she felt more love and compassion than she’d ever known before…

And quite understandably, Martha complains to Jesus.  She expects Jesus to put Mary in her place – to remind her that she too is a servant to the occasion and not the beneficiary of all Martha’s work – but Jesus does nothing of the sort.  Jesus in fact defends Mary as having chosen the better thing.

 

How could Jesus?  After Martha is serving him?!  How could he look this gift-horse in the mouth?!  How could he defy social expectation and give Mary a pass on the cooking and cleaning?  How could he act as though he didn’t need to eat and drink – as though he didn’t need the services Martha was so diligently offering.

Well, I don’t know exactly how this played out.  We do not know so many things – such as the breadth or scope of work Martha was attempting.  She may have been trying to make the fanciest, most difficult dish she could – to show respect or possibly to show off…  We don’t know.  We don’t know if this was Mary’s usual behavior, or if this Teacher caught her so off guard that she completely forgot her usual duties…  We do not know.

But once we move through the shock and perhaps the initial offense of Jesus’ words to Martha, I hear a deep compassion for Martha.  Instead of a rebuke, I hear an invitation.  Jesus reminds Martha that she has a choice in all this hustle and bustle.  Jesus SEES how distracted and worried Martha is about so many things.  And he points to Mary as an example of what is good and needful.  Martha too can choose to stop and be, to listen and be present.

 

Now if I were Martha, I would feel enraged at this insinuation that my work was irrelevant or unnecessary.  But Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying that.  Perhaps they all would have chipped in to cook at some later point…  We do not know.  But if I were Martha, I would also find myself longing to stop and sit and be still.  I would have been beside myself with jealousy at Mary, sitting at the Teacher’s feet like that, without a care in the world but to listen to each word he said.

Could I abandon my lists and tasks like that?!

Could I pause the hurry and bustle of my mind like that?

Could I step off the treadmill and sit and be?

 

And this is where I think of all of us.  We take on many tasks in love and service to the Lord in this place.  This place of sanctuary and community is living and effective because of YOU.  Your passion and vision, your sweat and service, your diligence and expertise, your care and planning.  YOU make this place overflow with love.

 

…But we cannot fill another’s cup, if our well is empty.

We cannot love, unless we have been loved.

We cannot serve, unless our needs have been served.

 

To say it another way, “We love because God first loved us.”

 

 

And so very logically, if we are not attentive to sit and be still, if we are not pausing to listen to God’s words, our wells will surely run dry.  And when we run around trying to fill other’s wells while ours is dry, we usually end up spreading need and hurt more than plenty and love.  We cannot give what we do not have.  We need to be nourished by God’s word, sustained by God’s presence, held in God’s unfailing love…before we are made ready to go out and serve.

And so I remind us all, that even as you work and serve and labor in the love of the Lord, in this place, and in your own places of life and work… May you take refuge in God.  May you return to God’s feet and open your mind and heart to hear God’s words to you.  May you lay down the needs.  May you lay down your worries.  And may you bring it all to Christ’s feet.

 

Our Lord who fed 5000 from two loaves and five fish, can care for you.

Our Lord who made the lame man walk, can care for you.

Our Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, can care for you.

Our Lord who created the earth and all stars, who formed the planets and the ladybug, can care for you.

 

Let us heed these words of Jesus, spoken to us now, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

 

 

May we, like Mary, choose the better part.

“The Command, as Invitation”

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

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15

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

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

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

Luke 6:38

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


 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

And we are called to do this first,

Before we know what will be,

…An act of trust.

 

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

 

What a loving commandment.

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

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

 

And how merciful is this commandment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That God calls us back to gratitude.

 

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

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

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

 

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

the promised land,

…the Kingdom of God on earth. 

“Trees Beside the Stream”

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

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10

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

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

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

 

Psalm 1

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

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


 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

We stand on the shoulders of so many.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Therefore, may we place our trust in God.

 

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

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

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

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

We place our trust in the SOURCE.

We place our trust in GOD.

 

May we be a people who remember.

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

“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.