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“Make Space for the Unexpected”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Matthew 28:1-10

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


 

Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.

Now they foresaw his death.  In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus:  “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.”  The tension is rising.  The conflict is mounting.  Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it.  But Jesus returned.

Jesus returned. 

And he would not be safe.  Not at all.

 

But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.

Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.

And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear.  They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed.  Will they be next?

And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward.  They hunker down and button the hatchets.  They tighten their inner circle.  They spend their days in a dark room.  They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there.  They start to worry about their next meal.  The fishing begins again…

 

Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?

 

And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.

How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??

No one.

Now the Israelites were a nation occupied.  They had been colonized by Rome.  They paid the emperor taxes.  They had known victory and defeat, power and exile.  But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change.  They ever faced threats of annihilation.  They built and others tore down.  Nothing seemed sure.  And the people were antsy.  Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won.  Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship.  And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus).  Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.

It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation.  And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy.  They yearned for liberation and power.

But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit?  At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed? 

Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?

To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:

“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”

What this describes is hope.

And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?

 

Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?

Will this pass?

 

We are grasping for hope.

 

Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?

And what is the world becoming?

So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
riding bicycles,
taking long walks,
slowing down,
sitting on porches,
making music,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.

We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse.  We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences.  We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.

But

Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?

 

We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…

Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…

 

It is easy to see our fears.  We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain.  It is easy to worry.  There are way too many things out of our control right now.  It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.

 

The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.

The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.

 

But JESUS returns. 

Jesus comes back.

 

When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death! 

 

Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time.  I do not know your particular worries.  I do not know how the waters rage around you.

But I do feel the waters rising.  I know the gravity of fear.  I have known the sting of loss.

 

But JESUS returns.  Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair. 

 

Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.

Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?

Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?

Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.

 

A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days.  Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.

 

Without openness,
Without space,
Without humility,
Without intention,
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.

 

We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.

Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God. 

Make room for hope

“Our God Comes”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 63:7-9
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

 

Isaiah 63:7-9

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

 

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”


 

 

Can you imagine the journey Mary and Joseph have been on?

First Mary is confronted by an angel who tells her she will bear God’s child.  So she becomes pregnant and is totally at the mercy of Joseph and the society, for in that day women who had slept with someone outside of marriage could be stoned to death.  Her fiancé Joseph figures out that she is pregnant…and not by him.  He plans to dismiss her quietly – breaking their engagement.  But instead he is instructed by an angel in a dream to take Mary as his wife – that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

 

What a roller coaster!  Had either or Mary or Joseph imagined their wedding day, their marriage, conceiving a child, etc.,…they could not have imagined THIS.  The order is all out of whack.  One would hope to wed and then conceive and birth a child, but instead a child is on the way before they even are intimate or married.

Now Joseph has all the power here.  He can marry her, have her killed, or dismiss her quietly.  He can carry out his own plan, or he can follow what the angel tells him in a dream.  And he chooses to follow.  He marries Mary.

And THIS is where they might hope to settle down, find their stride, set up home, and build a life together, but alas, there is a census.  Everyone must travel to their city of origin – to be counted.  And so Mary, very pregnant, and Joseph must travel over hills and valleys to Bethlehem.

When they arrive, all they want is a soft bed and warm food.  All they want is a place lay their heads and close their eyes.  But perhaps they were slower on the road.  Perhaps their journey took a tad longer.  Whatever it was, Bethlehem was full to the brim.  There was no room for them.  All they were offered was a cattle shed out back.

And our very-pregnant-Mary goes into labor.

 

Nothing about their engagement, wedding, first year of marriage was going according to plan.  None of it was what they’d dreamed of.

And now, they were giving birth to their first child, in an animal barn out back.

But God showed up.  The brightest star shone overhead – as though God’s light was breaking through the heavens to pour warm light on God’s Son.  Angels broke through the heavens with singing – before the only ones keeping watch that night, the shepherds.  And when they took their beautiful baby boy to the temple to be circumcised, Anna and Simeon greet them with joyous prophecy; their son is the long-awaited one!  And over time, that bright star guided Wise Men from the east, who would travel long distances to find the newborn King and pay him homage.

Gifts and provision.

 

Confirmation

after confirmation

after confirmation.

 

The red carpet was not rolled out.

They were not teleported to their destinations.

Doors did not magically open.

But God showed up.  Angels showed up.  God spoke to them in dreams, in signs and wonders, and through the people around them…those who were watching, those who were seeking, those who were waiting.

 

And so we would hope that at this point in the story, they would joyously make their way back home.  But not so.  Again, Joseph is visited in a dream.  He is instructed to flee to Egypt with his family – that Herod is coming to destroy their perfect baby boy.

And again, Joseph has a choice to make – to stay or to go.  I imagine both he and Mary must ache for some normality, some comfort, some routine, some family, some coffee, a night off, some familiar…  But the storm of Herod’s fear and jealousy is coming like a fury.  And this precious family has no protection, except the voice of God breaking into their reality.

God breaks through. 

Joseph again chooses to obey, to follow after God, to believe, to trust, to place his hand in the hand of God.

 

And so they flee.

They flee to Egypt.

And God instructs them to stay until Herod dies.  Which they do.

 

Can you imagine?

 

GOD is doing amazing things.  GOD has come.  GOD is turning the world around.  GOD is breaking through, into our reality, into our lives, into the order and disorder of things…

God is breaking into hearts by an infant –

an infant whose tiny hands grasp our flawed fingers,

an infant whose wrinkled feet are swaddled in rags and laid in straw,

an infant who learns his first words following the faces and sounds of his perfectly imperfect parents.

And after learning from us, this infant would grow to be a boy anointed and a man full of grace and truth.  For GOD has broken through – through the hardened edges of our religiosity, our legalism, our nationalism, our egos and errors and fears.

GOD is breaking through.

 

And GOD is breaking through still.

And like that first Christmas, God comes still through the perfectly imperfect.

God comes when nothing goes according to our plans.

God comes when we, like Joseph and Mary, choose to follow God’s leading, God’s nudge.

God comes when we are seeking like the Wise Men

Watching like the Shepherds

Waiting like Anna and Simeon

 

God comes.

 

Will we have listening ears,

Watching eyes,

Seeking hearts,

Following feet?

 

Will you?

 

 

Get ready.  Have a bag packed.  Keep your cell phone charged, gas in your car, bus money in your pocket, walking shoes on your feet – for our God comes.

 

Will you be ready? 

“Keep Alert. The Expectant Shall See.”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


 

So much surrounding Jesus’ birth is extra-ordinary.

A virgin birth.

An unwed mother still engaged, though her child is not his own.

A girl, the chosen one, from the no-good, backwater town of Nazareth.

Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, pregnant with John, after a lifetime of barrenness.

Elizabeth’s husband Zephaniah made mute until his firstborn and only child John is born.

Angel visitations – to Mary, to Zephaniah, and to Joseph in a dream.

The first-ever world census, it says.

A star directly over the barn, where Jesus is born.

The wise men who study the stars and travel from other kingdoms to pay homage to Jesus.

The glorious host of angels alerting the shepherds to the Christ-child.

A holy child wrapped in mere bands of cloth – not a blanket – and lying in a feed trough.

 

Here the long-awaited Messiah is born and who comes but the foreigners,

The social outsiders – shepherds who spent more time with animals than with other people.

 

It says Mary pondered all these things in her heart.

And as she should!  Because WHO could have foreseen this bizarre series of events?

Who would have guessed those whom God would call to witness this great act of God – the outsiders, the unclean, the foreigners…ALL people God’s chosen were taught to keep their distance from.

 

But WHO is ready?

Is it the people of Israel?

 

Certainly it is not the people of Bethlehem who have relegated this very expectant mother to the animal barn.

 

No.  Foreigners are among the first to see.

And among their own people, it is not all the well-dressed,

The put together,

The wealthy,

The well-connected, no.

Shepherds.  The smelly shepherds.  Those whose work keeps them on the fringes.  Those who are not clean or presentable.

These are among the first to hear and see.

 

And WHY did they see?

Could it be because they were open and available?

Could it be because their socially isolating work required that they be open and ready, listening and waiting, on guard for the sheep – alert to any change or danger?  Could it be because they were among the few lying on their backs under the open stars?

 

 

For those who are paying attention, there is so much to witness, so much to see and hear, extraordinary happenings!

There is so much to ponder in one’s heart.

 

But those who witness,

Who hear and see,

They are the expectant.

The expectant are witness to this extraordinary in-breaking of Mystery into our world, the Son of God, born a tiny babe to a virgin, wrapped in scraps of cloth, and lying in a feed trough.

Those who hear and see are the expectant, the alert, the watching and listening and waiting ones.

 

 

How vigilant are you to protect and preserve moments of waiting,

Moments of listening,

Moments of openness and expectancy,

In your day by seemingly-ordinary-day life?

 

This tiny babe, is still breaking into our lives, in extra-ordinary ways.

The watching ones.  The waiting ones.  The seeking ones.

The expectant ones SEE.  Halleluia!

 

Our Lord is here.

Do we see?