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Kindom Unity

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133:1-3

 

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

 

Psalm 133:1-3

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.

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

 

 

Now this passage from Psalm 133, feels dreamy.  It feels like a hot shower, like a warm towel, like soft sheets.  This passage feels like a spread of delicious food, like time in the presence of friends – laughing, like the road rising to meet us…

This passage from Psalm 133 – about how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity – feels dreamy, feels exquisite, feels like a deep breath – because it is so entirely rare.  There are few in life with whom we feel this level of peace, are there not?

 

And do not get too hung up on the literary meaning of the word kindred – for our God has shattered our worldly delineations of family, opening the doors wide in Christ Jesus that all might come in and sit at the table of the family of God…

So, we do well if we recall the Native American concept of “all my relations” referring to the connections we have with all creatures and all creation.  For we are all connected.  We all affect one another.  We directly and indirectly impact the lives and well-being of one another.

 

And this kind of unity implies a harmony between creatures and all creation. 

 

What would it take for us to live in unity like that?
What would it take for us to be of one mind, and in full accord?
What would it be like to be of one heart and soul, as the writer of Acts describes the first believers in Jerusalem?
Of one heart and soul…

 

This implies an investing in the well-being of others.
This implies a binding of our lot to the lots of others.
This implies a laying down of race, of creed, of background, of education, of wealth, of political belief, of one’s own way…of control.

We lay down our very selves – our preferences & desires, dreams and hopes, fears and wants – trusting God with the whole, trusting God with the tiny, trusting God with all of us…

Can you imagine?!??

 

Each and every decision would be weighed by its impact to the whole.  Sacrifices would be made.  Love would be baked and cooked, prepared and eaten.  Love would be given and shared, broken and passed around.

Love would reign.
God would reign.
…God’s Kindom among us! 

 

But this is far from our daily experiences, is it not?
Not only is it far from our experiences in our neighborhoods, our communities, our city,
But it is far from our experience in church.
Is it not?

 

For all the love professed and often shared,
We also bicker and fight.
We keep score.
We take sides.
We remember perceived wrongs – telling and retelling and retelling them.
We grumble and complain.
We point the finger.
We blame.
…You know what I’m talking about.

 

THIS Is far from the UNITY Christ prayed for us at his end that we might have – by which others would know God’s love…
THIS is far from the UNITY the believers of Acts shared – pooling their resources for the well-being of all…
THIS is far from the UNITY the Psalmist writes of
…the kind that feels like warm fresh sheets, a delicate soft breeze, a meal shared among friends. 

And while some here are friends, others have remained perpetual outsiders, often uninvited to join in.  There are those who decisions are always questioned, their choices often doubted.  There are those whose ideas are not welcome but are kept at distance.  The inner circle may not be visible to those inside it.  But it is very visible to those outside it.

 

What would it take for church to feel good – like a delicious spread of food, or deep sweet rest, like a sigh of relief?
What would it take for church to be that experience of unity that gives us hope for the rest of the world, and our daily lives?
What would it take for us to be unified? 

How might Love require us to open ourselves, to make room for someone different?
How might Love require us to set aside our preference to prioritize another’s sensibilities?
How might Love compel us to bind ourselves to the well-being of one another?

 

What if our meetings were more characterized by excitement and joy than drudgery and keeping score?
What if Session operated less by Robert’s Rules and more by consensus, a coming together, a unity of heart and soul?
What if we stopped using guilt to try to persuade others to be more like ourselves?

What if church was truly a place we could try our best, mess up, and give it another go – in the grace and mercy of fellow believers – who too “go by the grace of God.”

What if church was truly the place where our society’s ranking system was laid down, surrendered, and “the least of these” are valued for their thoughts, their perspective, their insights and life experiences?

What if we can’t wait for church – because nothing compares to the welcome, the acceptance, the support, the encouragement, the forgiveness, the UNITY we know there?

What if? 

 

 

May Jesus’ prayer for us to be one – as he and God are one – be more than just words
…a nice thought
…a sweet dream.

May Jesus’ prayer be made real in us.
May WE become one – as one heart and soul –
…like fragrant anointing oil running down the head and into the beard,
…like the smell baked goods coming from the kitchen,
…a meal savored among friends,
…the comfort of your four-legged companion curled up beside you,
…like hot shower on a winter’s day.

How very GOOD and PLEASANT it is when kindred live together in unity. 

 

May WE know that UNITY
here
and
now:
God’s Kindom
among us. 

Halleluia!

 

 

 

“Sometime a Light Surprises”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

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

 

Nightmare of all nightmares, here was the singular man who had loved them like none other.  Here was the singular man who had opened hearts, minds, and souls.  Here was the singular man who had healed the sick and brought the dead back to life.

This man was re-making the world as it SHOULD be.  This man was calling each person to be the most whole person they COULD be.  This man showed them what LOVE looked like.  He showed them what faith felt like.

Everything that meant anything, he had touched in healing, in mercy, in grace, in truth, in forgiveness.  Everywhere he had gone, he bestowed blessing.  People ate because of him.  People drew near to God because of him.  People were restored to community and family because of him.  People lived because of him.

 

This man was nothing but Love.  This man was nothing, if not Truth.  This man had shown them the Way. 

 

And they were utterly heartbroken. 

 

 

The one they loved…
The singular one who’d loved them so well!…
The One who say both who they really were and who they could be…
THIS ONE the institutional leaders had set out to destroy. 

They plotted.
They planned.
They looked for opportunity,
justification,
excuse,
smoke-screen,
in order to take him down.

They could no longer bear the insults,
being called out,
being exposed for the sinfulness of their hearts,
having their rules and teachings challenged,
all the changes he incited,
having the lowliest among them exalted,
being passed over in the shadow of this exalted prophet…

But of course these lay below the surface.  Then there were the party lines:
He blasphemes God!
He presumes to be God’s own son!

 

It just wouldn’t do.
And so they hatched a plan.
The leadership happened upon a turncoat – Judas –
and they seized their opportunity
for insider information.

They carefully avoided the crowds.
Heck, they avoided the sun!
They came – like a thief in the night –
for this servant who had always come before them in the light.
They came – armed to the teeth –
for this servant who they knew possessed no weapons.

They came to silence him. 

 

And so it was that Jesus was betrayed by one he loved,
and handed over to those who wished him harm.
And all his disciples – named and unnamed, men and women all – were left in the confusion and darkness of what had transpired.  They were left powerless, to a system much more powerful than them.  They were left in mourning for the truest Love they had ever known.

And it was a living nightmare – ever worse, day by day. 

 

Perhaps some hoped for justice to win out in the end.

Perhaps some hoped for truth to come to light.

Perhaps some hoped Jesus would set himself free and disappear from the crowds, as he’d done amidst that angry mob who lost their illegal pig industry due to this prophet setting a tortured, demon-possessed man free.

Perhaps they imagined him speaking in power over the elements of nature – commanding an earthquake or storm – and taking over the establishment, taking over the government.

 

But everyday turned darker and darker
until it was clear
that nothing would divert the establishment
from its will. 
No.

 

He must cease to be.
…to exist.
…to breathe. 

 

He is handled most haphazardly – handed over to the government on accusation of treason.  His innocence is known, and yet, the will of the religious leadership presses the government powers.  And so in true government fashion for the day – a wager is put forth, a flip of the coin; the fickle will of the crowds will decide if Jesus lives or dies.

And the religious leadership is so very determined that they advise their own constituents to vote to release a murderer, rather than release the prophet.

Wow.

What kind of rationalization do you think that took?

…They really had to convince themselves of Jesus’ utter harmfulness in order to justify their backing the prisoner known for murder. 

 

The trial was never really a trial.  If it had been, it would have been carried out in the light….rather than in the night.  There was no decision to be made.  It had already been decided.  These leaders were merely deciding their point of attack – and they decide to co-opt government forces to do their murderous work for them.

THEN they’d have plenty of scapegoats

The government condemned Jesus! 

The crowds condemned Jesus! 

It wasn’t us!

 

And all the while, his family, friends, and disciples look on as the horror unfolds into a full-blown public crucifixion – designed for it’s pain, reputed for it’s notion of curse.

And they stand, looking on, watching his pain, hearing his words, seeing his flesh torn and ripped open, watching him struggle at last to take even. a. final. breath.

 

Jesus’ disciples are in shock.  They are in horror.
Perhaps they go to sleep hoping they’ll wake up to find it was only a dream.
Perhaps Jesus will command himself off of that cruel instrument of torture.
But alas, he endures.  He stays.

And they cannot avoid their pain, their grief, their fear…their living nightmare. 

 

And so on this morning of Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples are taken fully off-guard.  His disappearance from the tomb just feels more likely to be one more effort by the elite, to silence his memory.  And Mary Magdaline weeps.  She weeps and weeps outside that empty tomb.

 

She weeps until her eyes are puffy.

She weeps until her nose is stuffy.

She weeps she can hardly see, hardly speak, hardly move.  The others have left her behind.

And so it is

that when Jesus himself

comes to her in risen glory,

she thinks him the gardener.

…They are, after all, in a garden, a cemetery.  Who else might it be?!

 

NOTHING Mary has experienced in this life so far has prepared her to imagine this possibility.
Not even Jesus’ words could ready her to recognize him when he returns!
This is far out!

 

And, overcome by grief,
foggy with tears,
assuming things to be business as usual,
she does not recognize the answer to her prayers,
the One for whom she seeks,
standing
right
in front of her.

Halleluia! 

 

So I am here to say that whatever your grief

  • when it feels like business as usual, the same folks going down, the same folks climbing the ladder…
  • when it’s more of the same song and dance…
  • when justice is denied…
  • when truth is silenced…
  • when it seems the whole system is out to get you…

Do not
count out
God. 

We can be blinded by our grief.
We can be blinded by rage at injustice.
We can be blinded by our own mind – expecting only what we can anticipate and control.

But our God breaks our boxes.
Our God shatters our expectations.
Our God could not be held in a stone tomb! 

 

So even as we pray, and work, and yearn for God’s Kingdom,
may we learn to expect God’s inbreaking.

God is flipping the script.
God is turning the narrative on its head.

And if we are not encountering this table-flipping, tomb-escaping, bread breaking God,
then perhaps it is not God we worship after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

“Teach Us to Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned lie a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

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

 

I am so deeply appreciative to the apostle Paul for writing of such daily matters as eating food sacrificed to idols.

Now, I realize these aren’t occurrences in our day to day, but to me that matter’s little, for every time and place is contextual.  What matters more than a command or directive about doing or not doing something – is understanding the intention behind the command.

It matters more that we hold to the spirit of the law, than to individual, contextually-bounds rules and regulations found in the law.  Jesus often criticized the religious of his day for precisely this – getting all the rules & regulations but missing the entire point of it all.  The law is made for us and not us for the law.  The law is made to protect and preserve life, and not to squelch or stifle it.

 

The ancient city of Corinth had chosen Aphrodite and Poseidon as their gods.  It was likely baked into the DNA of city life, much as Christianity historically has been in America.  Thus you can imagine much social life centering around idol worship and rituals.  Animals would be slaughtered in dedication to the deity, much as animals were sacrificed to God in Jewish culture.  And like in Jewish culture the priests and people ate of the meat offered to God, so here in Corinth, the dedication would result in a feast and food for the community.

The question then becomes, can followers of Christ partake in the meal?

Those with deeper theological understanding saw no sin in the eating of food offered to idols, simply because they believed idols to be mere fancies of the imagination, mere works of fiction.  On the contrary, those without such theological understanding saw partaking in such food and festivities to be wrong and would abstain.

 

Paul sees no problem in the response of either group – feasting or fasting, partaking or abstaining.  What Paul however is very concerned about is that folks act within the bounds of their own conscience.  One’s own conscious will vary from one’s neighbors, and that is okay.  However, what isn’t okay is violating our conscious.  That is sin.

That implies a willingness to disobey what we perceive God to instruct us to do or not do.
That is rebellion.
That is the root of the fall – to do what one believes God has instructed that one NOT to do…

And Paul wishes that none should be lost – spiraling down pathways of self-destruction, believing themselves to have broken God’s law and thus perceiving more and more distance between themselves and our most Holy God.

It is not belief but action that establishes our character.
For it is not belief but action that sets our course.

Usually, in fact, our minds and beliefs follow our actions or inactions…

 

And so Paul is pleading with those of greater understanding, that they set aside their freedoms for the sake of the weak.

This is most curious, for I would have rather preferred instruction to educate and strengthen the weak…  But perhaps Paul wisely knew that the weak shall always be with us (and sometimes will be us).  And it is the way of Christ, to lay down oneself for one’s friends.

It is the way of Christ to lay down oneself for one’s friends. 

 

As our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world have become – or perhaps have always been – deeply fractured – we too are given ample opportunity to lay down ourselves, our preferences, our freedoms, our rights, that others might live.

How might God be calling you to do so?

 

For what these readings from 1 Corinthians teach us is that knowledge matters little in the scheme of things.  What truly matters is love – how we behave with one another.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Knowledge, prophesy, and speaking in tongues all come to an end.  All serve a purpose for such a time as this.  They guide us for a little while – until we gain greater knowledge, hear a fresh Word of God, or are lifted by the Spirit into the prayers of tomorrow.  All these, while good, have their end; they are like instructions left by a teacher, only useful while away from the teacher, but irrelevant once the teacher returns.

Christ is our Teacher, and when we finally come face to face, we may finally be at a loss for words – everything needful already being said.

 

Knowledge is passing.  We build on it, from age to age.
Prophecies come and go, each for their own time.

What lasts – truly lasts – is love.

Love

And love is not an ascent.
Love is not a belief or doctrine.
Love cannot be mandated by rule.
Love does not live with coercion.
Love does not live on the page of a letter
Or the lyrics of sweet songs.

LOVE is an action. 

 

If the greatest of all these attributes is love,

What might WE need to lay down, for Love’s sake?

Is there something Love compels us to abstain from doing?

Is there something Love is compelling us TO do?

 

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,

“The important thing is
not to think much
but to love much;
and so
do that which best stirs you
to love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“UNITY with Those People”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 62:5-12
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

 

Psalm 62:5-12

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.

 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

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

 

 

 

As our nation has been reeling in the events of this presidential transition of power, our scripture from Jonah speaks more poignantly than ever.

 

Who are THOSE PEOPLE to you?

Who are the ones you prefer avoid, as Jonah preferred avoid Ninevah?

Who are those you struggle to understand?

…to respect?

 

Native American wisdom teaches us that all creation is family.  We are all related.  We are one family.
Jesus Christ earnestly prayed, just before his death, that we might be one as Christ is one with the Father.  THIS is how folks will know we are Christ’s disciples:

UNITY
Unity. 

 

Are we, as a nation, unified?

Do we claim and love one another,

As Christ has claimed and loved us…while instructing us to sin no more?

We seem sooner bent on surgically removing one another from among the living; removing folks from power; removing folks the body of Christ; removing others from this our own family of relations, kin as we are alike made by the hands of God…

Do we not? 

 

And when I say “we” I do not refer to you, individually.  I refer to us all, collectively.
For as individual as we want to believe we are, we are truly ALL CONNECTED, as so we are made to be.  “No man is an island” as John Donne famously wrote.  In fact, if we were each to be islands of autonomy, there’d be no story of Adam needing Eve, Moses wouldn’t have needed the help of Aaron, and you could chuck most of the New Testament Epistles – which spend a great deal of time addressing our interpersonal relationships.

It is this well-meaning but misguided individualism that has kept us so far from truth, time after time.

 

In self-defense, time after time, we claim not be to racists.
In self-defense, time after time, we claim not to be coercive or partial.
And yet, this defensive posture has blinded us all.  Has it not?
For in our eagerness to justify and excuse ourselves, we fail to see the larger arc of history, of the systems set up to protect some and not others, of the economic incentives and opportunities we have benefited from while others have been denied, simply because of the color of their skin…

And this is our house.  It matters not who nailed the board or shuttered the windows.  We live in this house, our nation.  It’s history is our reality.  We are responsible.

If we view confession as merely an individual, spiritual sport, we miss far too much.  We miss the big picture.  We miss the opportunity to pray with and for one another and the whole.  The WHOLE.  We confess together because we affect one another.  We confess together because we need one another.  We confess together because we have sinned together.  And our sins can be anything from action to inaction, from speaking to remaining silent.  We affect one another.  We struggle with these things collectively.  And so we confess together.

 

And this business of unity is not the responsibility of THOSE PEOPLE.
It is not merely the responsibility of our elected leaders.
It is not torn down only by those on the edges, in the extremes.
WE are responsible for unity.
ALL of us.

For as I have learned from our native brother, Edgar Villanueva, a healing circle is not complete until everyone is present. 

 

Have you heard that in some native tribes, when a member does something bad, they are brought into the circle, and for two days strait, everyone in the village  aloud every speaks good things about that person.  Two whole days.  Wow.

They were reminding that one who they are,
…beyond
what they’d done.

Edgar writes of a native mentor who told him the story of packing up to leave a community center for the night, when the elder at a table of youth said, “The problem was not the white man coming to America.”

The mentor was struck by this and quickly set down her things.  She had to.  This elder had been alive through so much atrocity.  How could HE say the problem wasn’t the white man coming to America?  Then the elder went on to say, “the problem was, they forgot their lessons.”

They forgot their lessons.

Not demonizing those who had demonized him.
Not returning terror for terror.
Not returning pain for violence.

This elder remembered that we are all one family,
We are all related. 

And he called attention to action, rather than person.
It wasn’t that the white men shouldn’t have come or shouldn’t exist.
It was WHAT THEY DID that mattered.
And what they did betrayed that they did not remember that we are all one family,
All kin,
All made by the hands of one God.

 

We can learn from these, our black and brown brothers and sisters.  They have endured things that so many of us of lighter skin have been sheltered from.

This elder was living the unity Christ prayed for his disciples.  

 Will we? 

 

Will we turn toward THOSE PEOPLE – as Jonah turned toward the people of Ninevah – speaking truth in love?
Will we go where we do not wish to go – as Christ went faithfully to the cross, after asking God that that cup might pass from him?

I am not proposing that we go and intentionally make martyrs of ourselves.
Rather, I am proposing, that we listen for God, as Samuel listened when God spoke to him in the early morning of his temple rest.

And when we hear God’s still small voice, instructing us where to go,
May we respond, not as Jonah did the first time – fleeing as fast as loose as we can in the other direction till he found himself in the belly of a whale with no other options but…well, God –
But rather as Jonah did the second time – obeying the Word of the Lord,
And watching as God redeems even those we have formerly despised. 

 

No one is too far from God’s reach.
And so it is that no one should be too far from ours.
For we are Christ’s body on earth,
Christ’s hands for serving,
Christ’s heart for loving,
Christ’s mind for teaching,
Christ’s arms for embracing.

 

 

 

PRAYERS

 

Leslie Weatherhead, England (1883-1975)

O suffering Christ, lay your hand in healing power upon those who feel they can bear no more, until their hearts are hushed and quieted, knowing that round about them and underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.

Amen.

 

Miriam Therese Winter

Life, spilling over the hills of our grief and filling the wells in our souls and our senses, come, lift us up into lighthearted laughter, so all the weight of our awareness does not overwhelm us.  Life of Our World, be life – in and through us, now and forever.

Amen

 

Kathleen Fischer

May you face life without illusion, but with gratitude.
Though you have known tragedy, may you nonetheless cherish laughter.
May you have an ever clearer sense of what is important and what is not.
May your encounters with evil heighten your appreciation of what is good.
May you learn to meet death in a way that leads you to celebrate life.

“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.