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“Speak, Your Servant is Listening”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20

 

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you.

 

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

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

 

 

This story of Samuel hearing God calling to him repeatedly and Samuel’s not knowing who is calling him has fascinated my imagination.  It is one of the few stories centered around a child or youth.  And so it made listening to God something a child could do.  I suppose it always gave me hope that God could speak to me also.  I just needed to be listening and receptive.

I hope that any youth listening will take note of this:  God is reaching out to YOU, speaking to You!  Believe it!

 

But today I read the scripture with new eyes, noticing things I’d never before noticed.

Did you realize that while Eli slept in his own room in the temple, Samuel slept in the innermost sanctuary where the arc of the covenant was housed?  Perhaps Eli did this as well from time to time.  They may have rotated, or perhaps this was a task given over to Samuel, once Samuel grew old enough to be responsible for protecting the arc & light of God during the night.

Scholars note that just enough oil would be put into the lamp of that room – as to last the night.  So the indication that the light hadn’t yet gone out, implies the time to have been early morning, just before the light would have gone out naturally.  They point out that since Eli was of poor sight, Samuel may have been used to listening for Eli – to assist him, as he had need, tending to him during the night when needed.  But on this night, though Samuel swears Eli is calling him, he finally learns that it is the Lord who has come there to be with him, calling his name.  And Eli, suspecting it to be God, instructed Samuel to respond saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” and so Samuel does.

 

At this, Samuel is given an earful about how Eli’s house will be punished, their sins not forgiven.

Samuel doesn’t want to tell Eli a thing.  But Eli implores him saying, May God do to you the same or more if you do not tell me.  And so Samuel is coaxed into speaking the Word of the Lord in full – that condemning word concerning the fate of Eli’s family.  And to this grave Word, Eli replies, “It is the Lord; let Him do as He sees best.”

 

And so this is the way Samuel first hears God speak to him.

 

Several weeks ago, we discussed whether or not we wished to hear God speaking to each of us.  Simeon & Anna were two who had heard the Word of God, God’s promises spoken to them!  And they wait and watch and endure LONG – for God’s Word to be fulfilled in their lifetimes.

Here we have Samuel, but a child.  He wears a linen loin-cloth and a little robe that his mother makes and brings to him each year.  Scripture tells us that Samuel has been ministering to the Lord under Eli.  Samuel is growing in stature and in favor with God and people.  But still he does not know God, and God’s Word had yet to be revealed to him.  So this experience takes him quite off guard, especially as the Word of God was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.

 

I can relate to this.  Culturally we place very little faith in visions and words allegedly from God.  We tend to think someone crazy or over-inflated if they claim to have gotten a word from God or seen a vision from God.  Do we not?

This is most unfortunate for we see God doing both things here.  And our God is moving and speaking still…

But because it’s not something we’re well versed in discerning or recognizing or imagining, we aren’t attuned to listening for God to reveal Godself in such ways.  And such was the case with Samuel, who – not even yet an adult – is hearing someone call his name and struggling to piece together what is actually going on!

We are akin to Samuel in this way, in many of our inexperience with listening for God, in today’s world and our daily lives.

 

Finally, I am struck by the finishing words of this story:

19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

I find this phrase, Samuel “let none of [God’s] words fall to the ground,” to be most inspiring.

 

What we do with God’s Word is of utmost importance.
What do you think it means to not let God’s Word fall to the ground?
Might it be similar to the defilement of letting a national flag touch the ground?
Or perhaps is it obedience?
Does this mean that Samuel both spoke and did whatever God spoke and asked of him?

Scholars convey here that in Israelite culture, one’s word was almost a concrete expression of character.  Words could be active or idle.  But God’s Word is active; God speaks and it is done.  So the meaning believed to be communicated by this phrase, “Let none of God’s words fall to the ground” is that whatever Samuel said, came true.

Samuel’s words were his action.  And his words came from God – faithful each one.  Such that from the northernmost sanctuary to the southernmost sanctuary of the nation, Samuel became renowned as a trustworthy prophet of God.  And this must have been significant, given the realities that God’s Word was rare in those days.

 

Samuel was blessed to be born of a woman Hannah who KNEW this fervently-prayed-for gift of her first son Samuel was a gift undeserved by God, granted by God after.  In profound act of devotion and faithfulness, she pledges her firstborn male child to be God’s servant, a Nazarite, forever.  And when God grants her prayer, opening her womb, she remains faithful to God, following through with her promise.  Her WORD is her ACTION.

This is Samuel’s mother, and though he does not live with his mother long, he too grows in faithfulness – such that his WORD is his ACTION.  And God’s Word is Samuel’s word.  It would appear that Samuel learns some of this devotion from his mother.

Samuel also serves the Lord, ministering to God, day after day – before he understands it or knows God.  He is faithful in character, such that even in this state of separation from God, he is growing in the favor of God and of people.  He is a child of integrity and faithfulness.

When we meet Samuel, he is attending to the arc of the covenant of God, assisting Eli in his priestly and probably his personal duties.  Samuel grows in stature BY DOING good, by working faithfully, even without understanding.

And Samuel is ever-so-blessed to have a mentor in Eli.  For though Eli’s own boys are hardened in doing evil in God’s sight, Eli himself has been serving the Lord his life-long.  So when Samuel begins to hear God speak, Eli has the foresight to guide Samuel in surrendering himself to God, making himself open and attentive to God.

 

I believe that in this story of Samuel’s coming-of-age, if you will, we are given a picture of listening for God, of watching for God, of faithfulness even amid confusion, and of surrender to God’s will.

Listening for God’s voice to you and to me is perhaps not as far-fetched or as difficult as we have often been led to believe.  God has been revealing Godself to us through-out human history!  And sometimes it is indeed through visions, hearings, and visitations by angels.  Our Christmas story re-attests to this fact – as does the story of Christ’s baptism, in which a voice from heaven says, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

 

God speaks.
God STILL speaks
to you
to me. 

God is speaking.
God is showing up.
God is telling us what we need to know,
when we need to know it.

 

So are we,
growing in faithfulness and devotion, day by day, even when our understanding is incomplete?
Are we
positioning ourselves in service to God and to others?
Are we
remaining in the presence of good teachers
who can help us grow in our open obedience
of listening,
responding, and
surrendering to God’s Word? 

 

Would that we be so faithful as Samuel,
such that many more might come to hear God’s voice,
and live devotedly:
proclaiming God’s Word
…in voice
and action. 

 

 

 

 

Awaiting the Already

Katherine Todd
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

 

Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

 

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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

 

Wow.

The reactions of both Simeon and Anna to the Christ child, Jesus, are amazing.

We are not told by what means God has revealed the truth of Jesus to them, and yet God has;  they know, and their joy gives witness to the strength of their conviction.

 

Have you heard God speak to you before?

Would you like to share in such joyful conviction as among those who hear and witness the great promises of God?

I certainly would!

And yet what has become more and more plain to me, is that this requires a fortitude of spirit.

 

Here Simeon has received a promise – not to taste death, until he has seen the Lord’s Messiah – and yet we do not know how long he lived with his promise, watching and waiting, praying and seeking…

Here we have Anna.  She was married to a man who died after only seven years of matrimony, and ever since, she dwells in the temple night and day, fervent in prayer.  She is now eighty-four.  How long has she been crying out?

 

And these two prophets are not alone, for the Psalms are littered with the faithful doubt of the saints:  “How long, O Lord?!  …yet even still I will praise you.”

The Biblical author Habakkuk starts out his whole book this way, and through-out, we are given no consolation, no resolution, other than Habakkuk’s sheer will to persevere in trust and praise.  Though we do not know that he sees the fulfillment of God’s promises in his lifetime, he chooses to rest in confidence, in our God.

 

So what will be written of you or of I?
What is the arc of your life? 

Do our lives witness to faith, even amid long-suffering, waiting, longing, praying?
Do our lives rather illustrate the ravages of fear?

For you see, BEFORE any of this came to pass,
Before the star,
Before the Messiah’s birth,
Before the fullness of time…was the waiting.

And each of us has our own way of waiting.

Can you see the gifts beneath the tree and take delight in the almost/not-yet?
Can you witness a moment of great love, contrasting more frequent moments of impatience and complaining, and yet still greet yourself in the mirror each morning with compassion at your beautiful/not-yet?

Can we witness the evils and injustices of our society and persevere in prayer, in crying out?
Can we HOPE when everything around us mocks that spark?

We each wait differently.

But for those who persevere
who hope beyond hope,
who “garden in the dark,” as one holocaust survivor spoke of
we await sweetest joy,
prayers answered,
Emmanuel – Christ, come among us!

 

Dearest brothers and sisters in this journey,
If we treated God with the impatience we show ourselves and one another,
we would have long said, “You’re fired!”  For God does not operate on our timing.

God waited – that all might be saved – for the fullness of time.
Many a faithful follower cried out for this very Messiah!
Generation after generation fervently prayed for that which their human eyes would never see.
And all of creation, scripture tells us, groans for Christ’s coming!

You are not alone.  You are not alone.

 

Be comforted knowing that in God’s timing, we have been adopted into the family of God – not as servants or as slaves but as children, heirs of God’s very promises!!!

 

Do you believe?
Will you receive it?
Can WE
live in the already/not-yet

of our adoption into the family of God
…watching and waiting and praying for the fulfillment of all God’s promises to us,
God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?

 

 

 

PRAYER

O God of the high heavens,

O Christ of the deep earth,

O Spirit of the flowing waters,

O Trinity of love,

You have offered your love to us,

And here we pledge our love to you.

Strengthen us in our desire,

And breathe into our bodies the passion of your love.

We pray this in the name of Jesus,

To whom we commit ourselves.

Amen.

“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. 

 

“Your Contingency Plan”

By Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 14:5-29
Luke 21:5-6

 

Exodus 14:5-29

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 

Luke 21:5-6

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 


 

 

When I was in Israel, Jesus’ life began to open up to me in new ways.  One of the first places we visited was Ceasarea.  This was where Herod built a bold, nature-defying palace in the waves of the ocean.  Right on the seashore are the ruins of his palace.  It is remarkable, even for today.  It’s ruins are magnificent.  The city has an amphitheater, still standing and used.  It has an old arena.  It makes an impression, and that is what is was made for.

Herod, Israel’s Roman ruler during the days of Jesus, was notorious in many ways, but architecturally he was a wonder.  He communicated Roman strength, longevity, endurance, and ingenuity through bricks and mortar.  He built in places where people had never before built because of extreme and unfriendly natural elements.  He simply overcame them with science.  He built with exquisite and rare stones – imported and distinct from anything the people of Israel had seen.  His buildings were conquests, doing more, accomplishing more, bigger and better than the people ever could have imagined.  His works were impressive.

 

In Jerusalem, the holy mount where the temple was located was expanded by Herod.  Build on a mountain, there was no large, flat location to claim, and so he created one.  And it still stands today.  It is the foundation of holy sites still hotly contested by so many different people of faith.  And in one location, a glass window allows you to peer under the structure to see enormous arches below your feet that support the entire platform.  It is amazing.  The stones themselves were enormous, many the size of a modern-day tractor trailer, hewn from the mountain rock downhill, and rolled uphill and into position.

And this is the wonder of it all, even still.  Jerusalem is on shifting tectonic plates.  The earth there moves.  HOW could anyone build such a mighty structure on it successfully?  Herod overcame that.  He would use sheer gravity to hold the massive foundation stones in place.  They could move with the moving plates.  They would merely shift.  And his mighty arches below the surface of the foundation allowed water to pass through the surface and not weight down it down causing the sides to buckle and fall.

From an architectural standpoint, I stood amazed in Jerusalem.  It was entirely fascinating.  It was truly a wonder.

 

And all this was merely the foundation of the structure Herod was building in Jesus’ childhood.  This was Herod’s conquest and mighty display of power in Israel.  He would build an exquisite and mighty temple in Jerusalem.  To this day it is considered his masterpiece.

 

 

And THIS is the very structure about which Jesus says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Can you imagine the people’s stares?  Can you imagine them trying to work out how Jesus’ words could ever come to pass?  Each stone had been positioned with hundreds and hundreds of slaves all working together with engineering brilliance.  It was masterful.  WHO could destroy such a wondrous temple?

And it was brand new, state of the art, and engineering masterpiece.  It had been under construction for decades.  The people did not have missiles.  They did not have nuclear weapons.  They did not have guns and fire power.  HOW would anyone destroy such a mighty fortress?

And THAT is precisely what Jesus is saying.

 

It sounds absurd.  It sounds reaching.

 

And yet today, indeed not one stone is left upon another of that temple.  The wailing wall is merely the retaining wall of the that foundation Herod built.

Every word came to pass.

Something no one could have conceived of.

 

And it calls us to perk up and listen to Jesus’ words.

 

Jesus knows we are drawn to shiny, new things.  We love new construction.  We love new clothes.  We love new appliances.  We love new buildings.

And in the end, we put a lot of faith in these things.  We try to surround ourselves with shiny new things in order to give us comfort and security, peace of mind.  And here Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of their sense of wonder and security.

In fact, this mighty masterpiece was destroyed in a mere decades by the same ingenuity and powers by which it was created.  Rome besieged Jerusalem in 70 CE and destroyed it.

 

It didn’t even last a century.

 

And so I ask you.  In what do you place your trust?

Do you place your trust in the work of your hands?

Do you place your trust in the ingenuity of your mind?

Do you place your trust in your social finesse?

Do you place it in the money you’ve stored in accounts and stock and investments?

Do you place it in insurance policies and long-term planning?

None of these things are bad.  In fact, most of these things are wise.  They are responsible.  The Bible exhorts us to plan and to work hard.  God calls us to use God’s gifts and multiply them.  When we invest in our knowledge and skills, when we invest our money, when we work hard and make the most of what we are given in this world, we are in fact following God’s instructions for life!

And yet, the difference somehow comes when we start placing our TRUST in these things.

 

Rome wasn’t the first to conquer territories with their ingenuity and might.  Egypt in fact was also mighty, and they owed much of their success to chariots.  They invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses, and thus they were able to take the Mesopotamian invention of the wheel and chariot to a new level in battle.

They put a lot of trust in these chariots, which allowed them to overtake their enemies.  And yet, even these could not save them.  When God parted the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people of Israel to cross by foot on the dry riverbed, the Egyptians who followed them in chariots all got stuck and drowned in the sea as the waters returned.

 

So as we hear Jesus’ words about the temple, may our ears stand alert.  May we rightly assess what we have placed our trust in.

And if it is not in the Lord.  If our trust resides in the gifts of God or the abilities given to us by God, or our endurance and skill as we’ve walked in the grace and mercies of God, may we beware and turn around.  For none of these things can save.  God alone saves.  God alone is enough for every contingency.  God alone is WORTHY of our trust.

 

May we place our TRUST in God. 

 

“Sure As the Morning Sun”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:13-24
Jeremiah 33:14-26

 

Romans 11:13-24

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Jeremiah 33:14-26

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.

 


 

In this scripture from Jeremiah, we hear God’s promises to the people, and I am impressed by God’s reassurances.  God makes this round-about point – just to show Jeremiah how faithful and trustworthy God is to the people and to fulfill these promises.  God says that if any of them can cause God’s covenant with day and night to be broken, that only then would God’s covenant with David be broken.

And since human beings cannot cause the cessation of day and night, even more-so can human beings not cause God to break faith and promises with David.

These promises are sure.

They are steadfast.

They are as steady as the day.

They are as reliable as the night.

 

 

This reassurance of God’s faithfulness is needed.   It is needed because time and again, human beings do horrific things.  And down deep we fear God may turn God’s back on us.

And these fears are not unfounded.  Indeed our behaviors can affect whether or not God will respond to us or answer our prayers.  Our behaviors do have consequences.  We indeed reap what we sow.

Just before this in Jeremiah’s book, we read that the Chaldeans will come & fight and fill the broken-down houses with dead bodies that God will strike down, precisely because of the people’s wickedness.  God will hide God’s face from the city.

 

Indeed our actions do have consequences.  We can close ourselves off to God’s presence and God’s grace.  We can harden our hearts.  We can become intrenched in sin, deaf and dumb to God’s Spirit.  And we can set ourselves -in opposition to God- and all that is holy.

And knowing we will always revisit this question, God gives us this very visual demonstration of faithfulness.  So that with each morning and each evening, we might remember that God’s faithfulness is as steadfast as the morning sun, as reliable as the evening shade.

 

We do not alter God’s faithfulness.

We can only alter our participation in God’s work.

By our actions we may opt in and opt out.

But our actions do not lesson God’s faithfulness. 

 

And so knowing that we can indeed turn our backs and hide our faces from God, it is imperative that we humbly return to God, day after day.  God’s faithfulness does not wain, but we can close ourselves off to God and all that is good and true.

 

The sun is again a good visual aid for this concept.

I remember when I first rode in a plane.  I wasn’t young, and yet I was surprised when we passed through the cloud-cover of a gray and drippy day only to find the sun shining strong on the other side.

Now had you asked me, I could have worked out that this would be the case – of course the sun is still shining even when I cannot see it – but it was a profound perspective shift.  This fact that the sun is still shining, even when we cannot see it, remains with me today.

 

And God’s faithfulness is like the sun.  It is a faithful as the morning and the evening.  It shines, even when we cannot feel it or see it.

We can box the sun out.  We can keep the shades drawn and stay in the basement, but God’s radiance, God’s faithfulness shines on.

 

Now God’s faithfulness doesn’t always take the forms and timing and paths we expect.

In this scripture passage we read about how God will keep a son on David’s throne and a priest to offer sacrifices for all time.  And I expect many have and many still do expect that God was speaking about the human nation of Israel.  Many still read these passages and think they are all very specific to the Jewish nation and their continued existence and prowess.  But I do not think in that way.  The book of Hebrews makes clear that Christ has become our high priest – for all time.  Christ is the sacrifice.  Christ himself became our way to God, our mediator, our cleansing blood.  And Christ is a descendant of David who reigns in power to this day.

In Christ, this promise is fulfilled!

And in this same passage, God says God will increase the offspring of David and the Levites who minister to God.  And in Christ, this too has been fulfilled – for all time – for from every nation God has risen up offspring of Israel.  God has grafted all those who believe into the family tree of God.

In Christ, God has forever set a descendant of David on the throne, God has forever set before us a high priest, and God has risen-up offspring to Israel by grafting in believers from many nations and times.

 

God has done something no human mind could have imagined.

We were thinking small.

God was thinking big.

We were thinking local.

God was thinking global.

 

And so as we leave this place of worship today, I invite you remember, with each sunrise and sunset, just how steadfast is God’s faithfulness and love. 

God’s promises are sure.

Nothing we do or don’t do can break them.

 

And so the question is:

Will we take part?

Will we experience the radiant love of the Lord?

Will we experience the never-giving up love of God?

Will we receive the sunlight on our skin and in our hair?

We will continue in the kindness of God?

 

God’s faithfulness is unending.  God’s love is steadfast and true.  God’s promises are sure.

Now our job is to stand in the light of God’s radiance,

Day after day,

And wait

And listen

And receive

And follow.

 

And may we experience and take part in

God’s abiding, steadfast, and

unbreakable love and faithfulness,

in this world

and in our lives.