SERMONS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
GOD FROM BEHIND

10/18/2020

 Exodus 33:12-23  (MSG)

For those of you who’ve been able to participate pretty regularly in our worship services since around the end of August, you know that we’ve been following along with Moses and the people of Israel as their story unfolds in the book of Exodus.  On that last Sunday in August, we thought about the birth of Moses.  And now, guided by the lectionary readings that often help us move through scripture in a somewhat orderly fashion, we will be done with the story in Exodus for a while.  Beginning next week, the Old Testament readings in the lectionary (which I don’t always follow) guide us into Deuteronomy, and then onto Joshua, Judges, Ezekiel and Isaiah in November.  Sometimes, it’s just hard to keep up!

But today we’re back to Exodus.  If I had focused on the lectionary reading from Exodus last week, we would have heard the story—and it may be familiar to you—of the golden calf, which the people of Israel get Aaron to make out of their gold jewelry when Moses is away on the mountain, receiving from God what we know as the 10 commandments. 

Now, following the disastrous episode with the golden calf, when our ancestors in the faith let their anxiety over Moses’ delay on Mount Sinai get the best of them, Moses and the Israelites teeter on the edge of promise—that space between wilderness and home, between despair and hope—with the sands of Sinai shifting beneath their feet. Because of their disobedience, God has determined not to continue among them when they resume their journey to Canaan.

It has been a devastating turn of events, not at all what Moses expected.

“But Moses has never been one to keep his mouth shut in his encounters with the great I AM,” as Audrey West, who teaches New Testament at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA puts it.  Moses has never been one to keep his mouth shut in his personal dealings with God. Even in the midst of his own uncertainty, Moses speaks his mind to God. He would be the sort of employee who causes the HR department to cringe whenever they see him coming—even if his complaints are reasonable—because you know he’s not going to keep quiet until he gets what he needs.

In their first encounter, at the burning bush, Moses hid his face from God, afraid to look. But he soon opened up and admitted how inadequate he felt about God’s call, wondering aloud whether he would know the right answers, worrying that nobody would believe him about his encounter with God, and admitting his lack of skill at public speaking. Even after God’s assures him that all those concerns will be taken care of, Moses blurted his most fervent plea: Just send somebody else!  I get it, Moses.  I totally get it.

There is no doubt God and Moses have come a long way together since then, talking together for days and weeks at a time. Their encounters involve close proximity and mutual sharing, as they build a less guarded and more honest relationship. Face-to-face conversations are the stuff of intimacy—something many of us are missing nowadays—and the intimacy encourages Moses to open his heart to God and for God to reveal more of Godself to Moses.

But close, intimate connection is also inherently dangerous. The more we learn about others, the greater our knowledge of their potential vulnerabilities—and their knowledge of ours. The closer we get, the more likely we are to hurt one another—one reason, according to Audrey West, “that civil wars are anything but civil and family feuds can persist for generations.” The practice of wearing masks during a global pandemic is a very concrete and current sign of this truth. If we aren’t careful, people close to us can get hurt.

In today’s story of the journey, Moses is not happy about God’s earlier refusal to journey with the Israelites, and he presses the Lord for a different outcome. He appeals to the special relationship they share, beginning from God’s original command to “bring up this people.” Besides, Moses adds, God knows him by name and thinks well of him—that should make a difference, right?

When talking to God, more than once Moses expands the circle of concern beyond himself to include the wider community. “Consider, too, that this is your people,” Moses stresses, as if reminding the Lord that their predicament after the golden calf fiasco ought to be no surprise. God knew who they were when God chose them. Despite their fear and grumbling and their inability to trust God through times of uncertainty, the people belong to God by God’s own choice. God knows them and has called them, in spite of their flaws. But if they are separated from God’s presence, Moses argues, they might as well stay in the wilderness, bound by their captivity to idols of their own making.

And then, even after getting God to promise to stay in the journey with the people, Moses takes advantage of their shared intimacy and pushes for still more. “Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses seeks not only to speak face to face but also to see face to face. In short, Moses wants a sign.

Given his yearning to know the fullness of God, it is not difficult to imagine Moses’ desire. How great it would be to carry some tangible sign through a wilderness of uncertainty as he grows in his knowledge of the one who calls him (and these people) into deeper relationship. Perhaps we share that longing for a concrete experience or material object that could remind us of our belonging to God. Audrey West suggests we “imagine a rod that morphs into a snake, or water that rushes from a rock, or a bush that burns without being consumed—or even an antidote to every physical or systemic sickness that infects our world and seeks to injure and kill.”

Moses does not get exactly what he asks for, though. It turns out if he had an unobscured view of the fullness of God’s glory, he would die. Instead God provides a touchstone before Moses steps forward on the bumpy terrain that will comprise the Israelites’ journey toward God’s promised end. “For the present moment, God gives to Moses a safe space in which to shelter, a solid rock on which to stand, and the assurance of protection by God’s own merciful and compassionate hand. In the future, the memory of this moment will become its own sign that God promises to remain nearby,” West says.

Secure on this footing, Moses will glimpse the trailing evidence of God’s glory as it passes just ahead of him. No doubt there will be more signs during the journey ahead, even if they are recognized only in retrospect. For today, however, this is enough: God’s promise to reveal God from behind as proof that God does not back out of the promise.

May that promise carry us through the journey forward, as well.  Amen.

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What really matters?

10/11/2020

Philippians 4:1-9  (NRSV)

Imagine that it’s the year 2520 — 500 years from today — and you are browsing about in a library (if such places even exist in 2520) and you come to the ancient history section. As you scroll through the titles, you come across “The Most Important Events of the 20th and 21st Centuries,” which is not too catchy but, remember, we’re being hypothetical here. You open the book and there’s a list of the top 10 events that shaped the world way back then and still matter in 2520.

Here’s the question to ponder: What are the top two events listed in the book? What events that have occurred in your lifetime will be remembered for 500 years from now? In order for us to understand the question more fully, it might be helpful for us to go in reverse. What do you think were the two most important events that occurred within the last 500 years — all the way back to 1520 or so?

Chances are that list was a lot harder to generate! Perhaps that’s because very little of what was important to the people of that day seems important to us today. We’re a lot more focused on the present, seeing the big events in our time as “earth-shattering” while not realizing that 500 years hence they’ve been swept into the dustbin of history or consigned to an obscure Ph.D. dissertation.

It’s so hard for us to imagine, but things like 9/11 and even the coronavirus pandemic may only be a blip in the grand scheme of things.

What do we honor or revile from 500 or even 100 years ago? Wars? They seem so all-encompassing at the time, but once the veterans and contemporaries are gone, they seem less pivotal and fall into the long line of human conflicts that seem to happen in every age. As memories get fuzzy, the reasons for the wars themselves become less apparent. What makes a particular war or battle stick in the mind of history is really more about the literature surrounding it.

Take, for example, the Battle of Gettysburg. Thousands of tourists flock to this little Pennsylvania town every year, despite the fact that, while this 1863 battle was pivotal in the Civil War, it was not decisive. The war would drag on for nearly two more years. We remember Gettysburg mostly because of what Abraham Lincoln said there in his address some four months later.

The same could be said for The War of the Roses, which would have completely faded from memory had not William Shakespeare written a series of plays around it.

Even world wars tend to lose their impact in time. World War I, the “war to end all wars,” quickly faded in the face of World War II which is, itself, being replaced in the collective consciousness by whatever war we happen to be presently fighting.

If even war doesn’t stand the test of time, what does? Scandal? Can you name the players and the problem in the Teapot Dome scandal? Can your kids tell you what Watergate was about? Does anyone remember Enron now, let alone 500 years from now?

How about art and architecture? You could make a case for both being more lasting. The Pyramids stand as a monument to Egyptian culture and the Sistine Chapel is a beautiful work, but are they the first things that leap to mind when you consider the time in which they were created? There are probably only a handful of such architectural and artistic works that could evoke long-term memory, while there are so many more that lie forgotten.

Perhaps the more enduring markers for any age are the ideas and explorations that advance human understanding. Physicist James Trefil proposes that new discoveries are what really stand the test of time. He says that two events — landing a man on the moon and cracking the genetic code — will be the most important. “Future humans,” he says, “will look back on the Apollo program the same way we look back at the early European explorers.” Understanding the human genome will enable us to understand how life works and help us learn how to “get under the hood and change the system, to alter life.”

So says the scientist about the timelessness of ideas. What about the theologian?

The apostle Paul lived far more than 500 years ago, but he had his focus squarely on ideas that would last. Writing to the Philippians, Paul’s worldview of what really lasts was bound up in his understanding of the cross and resurrection. The death and resurrection of Christ was the linchpin of history, ushering in a new age and anticipating an age to come. He understood that human history has an end point, but God’s kingdom does not. Rather than promoting great deeds or monuments to mark his place in history, Paul sees his own history as culminating in his desire to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (3:10). Everything else — accomplishments, reputation, legacy, fame, knowledge — was “rubbish” (3:8).

What really lasts, says Paul, are the ideas and actions that mirror Christ. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8).

Paul had a strong sense of the timeless as opposed to the temporal. He understood that everything — everything — we see when we look around is some day going to pass away. Nothing will be left standing. Something may be built in its place, but it too will come down either because we tear it down, or because it falls under its own weight, a victim of natural processes.

But Beauty — well, that’s a concept that is absolutely eternal. As is Love. As is Truth. Justice. Honor. Pleasure. These things cannot, repeat, cannot, be destroyed. There is no power or force of any magnitude, dimension, range or design that can destroy these things.

That’s why Paul suggests that in anxious times, in our worrying moments, we should return to the timeless, to the things that count.

Few of us will be remembered individually 500 years from now, or even 50 or 100 years from now. Our lives on this earth are, by and large, pretty brief and not historically noteworthy. If we really want to increase the store of human happiness and well-being and leave our mark on the world, then, the best way to do it is to follow the way of Christ — to think on and do the things that really matter in the long view of the kingdom. Truth is that humans have short memories, but God doesn’t. What we do for God is what will really last.  Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT

10/04/2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20  (NRSV)

“When I was a kid I got into a fair amount of trouble.” This is what Pennsylvania Presbyterian pastor Kathryn Johnston says about her childhood. “I’ve spent time in the corner (time-out’s ancestor), I’ve been grounded from playing outside, and like many in my generation, I have even heard the words ‘Go get the paddle.’ But nothing ever filled me with more dread than ‘Wait until your father gets home.’” 

Johnston is remembering the rules she grew up with, and broke.  This led me, of course, to think about the rules I grew up with…and maybe broke.  Or maybe not.  You have to remember that I am the last of four children (two boys, two girls) so I think when my parents got to me they were tired and maybe distracted and simply said “whatever” more often than they might have with my siblings.  Of course, I really was a sterling child (!), so I don’t really remember asking for permission to do things or go places, especially when I got into my high school years.  Instead, I remember saying to my parents, “Here’s what I’m doing,” or, “here’s where I’m going.”  “I thought you should know.”  So if there were rules—and there had to have been, right?—they were not particularly scary for me.  Oh wait!  I remember a rule!  When I was growing up, we didn’t have to eat everything on our plate, but we did have to TRY everything on our plate.

Johnston speculates that this dread of a looming, punishing father is why some Christians don’t like to spend a lot of time in the Old Testament. And to hang out at the foundation of all of the rules, the Ten Commandments, can seem downright oppressive.

But time spent in the Old Testament reveals the God of grace and love also found in the New Testament. The commandments are law; they are laws of love that help us to be in community.

I totally agree with Johnston when she writes that in order to be community, we need rules. Without rules there is chaos, and people get hurt. To be sure, people get hurt even with rules, but usually that’s because we ignore the rules or we disagree about them or we don’t like someone else’s interpretation of them.  For example…wear a face mask.

God’s beloved children keep making a mess out of ten very simple rules. These rules are so simple that Jesus summarizes them by citing just two Old Testament commandments. On the first of two tablets we find the commandment: Love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. How? By loving God above all gods, by not worshiping idols, by not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and by honoring the Sabbath. On the second tablet we find this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. How? Honor your elders. Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. The Ten Commandments, with their intimidating weight, are just these two commandments in more detail.

Moses brings down from Mount Sinai two tablets. (Unless you are a fan of Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part 1,” where Moses, comes down from Mount Sinai carrying three tablets containing 15 commandments, only to drop one of the tablets, losing the last five commandments as that tablet shatters into bits.) On the two tablets the Old Testament speaks of appear the to do’s and, in a slight twist, the to don’ts. And those funnel down to the most necessary things: Love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The foundation of who we are is our obedience to and love of God. Once that relationship is in place, it is time to turn to our relationship with those around us. How do we sustain life in community?

Every community has rules. What are the rules in your family? How many of them are written down? Thou shalt eat what’s put in front of you? Thou shalt not interrupt Grandpa, no matter how many times you’ve heard the story? Aunt Miriam always brings the apple pies, so never bring an apple pie?

What are the unwritten rules for our children’s sports teams? Don’t coach from the sidelines? Don’t mess with the team Mom? Don’t bring deviled eggs to an all-day tournament in the summer?

How about in our faith communities? Thou shalt clap your hands to music only if it’s Pentecost or the children’s choir is singing? Thou shalt not sit in the very front pew unless it’s Easter and you couldn’t find a parking spot?

The Israelites had far more rules than the Ten Command­ments. They needed them to keep a tight, healthy, long-lasting community. But many of those rules make less sense to us in our contemporary context. A faith community’s rules are based on context, and sometimes they need to shift when the context changes.

We are all living in a time of contextual change right now. So many of the unwritten rules for our community of faith will look totally different when we can all safely gather in one place again. The unwritten rule that the offering plates don’t cross the center aisle? Gone—no more offering plates passed. The unwritten rule that real ministry can’t be done online? Gone. The unwritten rule that only certain people sit in specific spots? Gone—hello, social distancing.

It feels like everything has changed—and yet the most important things have not. Stick with the top ten, and then go from there.

We worship together as communities of faith not because we are perfect at the rules but because we hold onto the faithful knowledge that God’s grace and love are what unite us—not the rules. We are going to disagree. We are going to disappoint. We are going to break the rules.

As pastor Johnston encourages us: “And so we hold one another up, we unite in our love for God and in God’s returned love for us, and we remain community in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Love God—no other gods, no idols. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and remember the sabbath. Love your neighbor—honor your elders. Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. It’s that simple.”

Amen.

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
the threat becomes a promise

9/27/2020

Exodus 17:1-7  (NRSV)

For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been paying attention to the story of the Exodus, where, by the constant guidance of God and the leader he called to step up—Moses—the people of Israel flee slavery in Egypt.  We’ve thought about how we, like the ancient Israelites, can count on God’s power and God’s presence and God’s steadfast love when we have to face our own sea crossings, as the Israelites did when they crossed the Red Sea.  We’ve pondered what it means that God promises to provide what we need, even if it isn’t always exactly what we want. (Spam?  Again?) 

Today we keep moving forward with the Israelites, who have moved on from the Wilderness of Sin—according to God’s command—and are now camping at Rephidim, where, they discover, there is no water for the people to drink.  Given how much energy the Israelites have already spent complaining to Moses and Aaron about this whole plan to escape slavery, you can bet that the discovery that there is no water to drink is not going to go well. 

But the amazing part of this story is that, once again, God is ready to transform a dire situation into an amazing promise.  And transformation is at the core of our faith.  Liz Goodman, a pastor in Massachusetts, wrote about a transformation she witnessed as a volunteer at a men’s prison, where she was teaching a class that was generally about reading (poetry, short stories) and writing (whatever the inmates wanted), though the focus changed as the students changed and brought new interests to the table.   

Goodman says, “We get all types there, from first-time offenders to those committed to the life of crime, from young men embarrassed to “have been so stupid” to less young men who’ve been through this before to older men who aren’t surprised by much, less still by what they get themselves into. Really, the more you get to know them the more you realize there are no types, just people—this one dealing with this, that one dealing with that.

“One inmate in my class developed a pattern of always being the last one to leave. He’d be slow about gathering his papers and returning his pen. (No hard pens are allowed, as they can be made into weapons—literal weapons, not in the “pen is mightier than the sword” sense.) He’d make it so he was last to shuffle out into the hallway, where he’d be patted down by a corrections officer. “Thanks,” he’d always say to me, and then maybe offer a follow-up question, Columbo-style: “Oh, one more thing…” He was in rough shape—bad teeth, bad tattoos. But over these few weeks he seemed to be softening.

“One week, though, he came into the classroom hard and sharp as I’d ever seen him,” Goodman says.  “He had a litany at the ready, about how this whole thing was messed up. The cops who got him were crooked. The lawyer who represented him was a jerk. The sentence he got was unfair. For what it’s worth, there’s perhaps some truth to what he was saying, but I felt compelled to ask, “What are you gonna do about it?”

“What can I do?” he asked.

“You’re smart, curious. Get your GED while you’re here, if you need it. Take the college classes that are offered as soon as you can. Be ready when you get out for community college. Go to law school. You’re still young.”

He dismissed all this with a scoff.

“People do it, you know,” I said. “And what else are you gonna do with your time? Watch Dr. Phil?”

People do do this. (People also watch a lot of daytime TV.) One step at a time—one math problem, one short story, one course—people can participate in a transformation that, slowly, daily, can amount to something miraculous.

In her reflecting on transformation, Liz Goodman drew my attention to one detail in today’s story of the time of the people in the wilderness, one detail I’m not sure I ever fully noticed.  It’s the transformation of the stone from being the thing of greatest threat to being a thing of surprising promise.

Moses, having led the people out of Egypt, now finds they feel not much better off. They fear for their lives—hungry, thirsty. They are giving Moses cause to fear for his life. Surrounded by loose stones in the wilderness, Moses begins to see these stones as something that could be weaponized. “They are almost ready to stone me!” he cries out to the Lord. An ancient recourse, a reliable mode for offing the perceived source of the problem and releasing all your frustration and fear and rage, stoning was always a lethal option for dealing with someone who is willing to take a risk.  Someone like Moses.

How astonishing, then, that the Lord chooses a stone as the source for a surprising wellspring—the rock of Horeb. “Strike the rock,” the Lord says to Moses, “and water will come out of it.” The worst threat becomes a wellspring of promise.

But isn’t this always the way God works? We see this transformation every year in the cross on Easter morning. The cross stands as a reminder of the worst the world can do and yet also of what the Lord can use, transformed, to save.  What we can use as a weapon, God uses to make a life-giving promise.

This is no excuse for resting easy amid a world littered with stones for stoning, crosses for crucifying, or prisons for filling up with people whom we otherwise don’t know what to do with or about. But it can be cause for joining in this ongoing work of God in the world, which is to transform threats to hope and menaces to new possibilities.

Because what else are you going to do with your time?   Amen.

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
what we want vs what we need

9/20/2020

 Exodus 16:2-15  (MSG)

I am not a particularly adventurous eater.  I do have a brother who is a professional chef, so I have eaten my share of…unusual…food.  But on a regular, day-to-day basis, I just really can’t be bothered with too much cooking.  I deal with this by cooking something on Sunday (soup, pasta, chicken…did I mention soup?) that I can then eat a portion of for dinner every night that week.

The same meal for a week.

I am much happier when I know on Sunday what I’m going to be eating for dinner on say, Wednesday, than I am if I have to think creatively about food every night of the week.  I’m pretty sure I learned this from my parents:  Sunday we ate a big meal, like a roasted something or other, we ate leftovers on Monday, hot dogs on Tuesday, Wednesday was usually a surprise, spaghetti or meatloaf on Thursday, I don’t remember what happened on Fridays, and hamburgers on Saturday.  Every week of my growing up years. 

This past week I miscalculated my dinner rations.  I ran out of meals on Wednesday and didn’t plan to go grocery shopping until Friday.  You can bet Thursday was all messed up for me.

Some people don’t even get to choose to eat like I do…their meals are simply prepared for them and they have to eat them.  About 150 years ago, at the mid-point of the American Civil War, an aspiring poet from a Union regiment sent a little piece to a newspaper as a humorous way of describing life in the army. Among the verses was this one about his daily field rations:

The soldier's fare is very rough, The bread is hard, the beef is tough;
If they can stand it, it will be, Through love of God, a mystery.

At that time, the army marched rather uneasily on its stomach with rations consisting of thick hard crackers called hardtack (which troops only half-jokingly considered to be hard enough to stop a bullet), some salt beef or pork, beans, sugar, salt and coffee.

Fast forward in United States military history and you'll hear veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam talking about their K or C-rations -- meals contained in tin cans that were legendary for their blandness and need of a can opener.

In the 1980s, the Army began to experiment with vacuum sealing its rations to make them lighter to carry and more nutritious for soldiers on the march. The result was the MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) that is still used by American troops. Although they are a vast improvement over the iron-sheeted crackers and leather-tough meat rations of their 19th-century forebears, they're still the bane of the soldier's existence. These nutritious but often bland and boring rations are the reason that most soldiers believe the acronym MRE should stand for "Meals Rejected by Everybody."

What soldiers always have to keep in mind, however, is that these meals weren't designed so much with taste in mind as utility: things that can be eaten while on the move while, at the same time, sustaining the necessary energy to keep moving. In other words, it's less about the meal than it is about the mission.

Now let’s think about the Israelites: they were like an army on the march, having reached the Sinai desert after God's stunning victory over the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and, like most armies, the first thing they did once the danger passed, was to start grousing about their food.

Just like your average American infantryman in Afghanistan is dreaming about home and Chipotle burritos, the Israelites remembered the fleshpots and corn bread they enjoyed while living in Egypt. Sure, they were slaves back there, but now, even slavery sounded good compared to an empty stomach. "You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger," they railed.

What they forgot, though, was that the meal was less important than the mission. God was leading them to a promised land, to a new home and freedom. The menu was going to be practical and sometimes sparse, as it often is for armies moving toward an objective, but God promised to provide a steady supply chain for the march. "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you," God said to Moses, "and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day". By providing daily food, God was going to test whether the Israelites were going to be good soldiers and trust God, doing what God instructed them to do, or if they were going to simply keep whining, and wishing for their Egyptian stockade.

The food that God provided was bread and meat -- manna and quail. The bread would be softer than hardtack and the meat fresher than salt pork, but it would only last a day. That meant that there was no storing up for the future, no stuffing one's cargo pockets with more than anyone else in the unit had. All of this was to be a reminder of the glory of the God who had the power to bring them out of Egypt.

And so it began: quail in the evening and manna in the morning. At first, the people didn't know what the manna was, kind of like no one really knows what's in Spam or what holds ham and chicken loaf together. Moses had to tell them that it was "the bread that the LORD has given you to eat". From that day forward, for 40-plus years, the Israelites had manna day after day, year after year.

Their meals might have been boring and tasteless, but the point of the story is that God provides for our needs. We might want something spicier, something richer, something that doesn't come in a "loaf," but God's more concerned about giving us what we need so that we might keep moving toward the larger objective that God has for us.

So the question is—as it almost always is—are we willing to follow God's lead in our lives? The Israelites found that after all that hardship and manna munching, they were right where God wanted them to be. The same will be true for us if we stay faithful and keep following him no matter what. How does that work? Well, to repurpose the words of our battlefield poet, "Through love of God, a mystery."

When we live in the love of God, there will always be enough.    Amen.

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SEA CROSSINGS

9/13/2020

Exodus 14:19-31  (NRSV)

The senior editor of Homiletics, Timothy Merrill, isn’t much of a seafarer, apparently.  He tells this story about his first—and probably only—deep sea fishing experience:

“I had been the pastor of a church in Oregon. It was situated in the Willamette Valley, only 45 minutes from the coast. We had been there for eight years, and were about to move to Colorado, and I realized that I had never gone deep sea fishing, something that most of the people in my congregation, especially the men, had done many times.

I thought that before leaving the area I should at least have this experience once. I was nervous, because I get nauseous on a swing. But on the day I signed up to go out on a little fishing boat off Depoe Bay, Oregon, the weather was clear, the ocean was calm. Our little group of a dozen was excited. There were some husbands and wives there for an outing, as well as a couple of grandmothers in rubber boots, sturdy coats and hats. And myself.

We set out. The charter company provided the gear and the bait. The two grandmas were out near the prow of the boat fixing their poles and lines. And I was getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The ocean swells could not have been more than 2-3 feet in height, but soon I was on my knees at the port side of the boat heaving until I could heave no more. Dreadfully sick. I despaired of life. I wanted nothing more in the world than that the skipper of the boat would turn about and head for harbor. I didn't care about the future. I didn't care if I saw the face of my dear wife ever again. I didn't care if I ever saw my children again at play, or school, or banging through a piece at the piano recital. I only wanted and fervently prayed that the good Lord would take me home to glory and remove me from my misery.

Of course, I made it back, weak and weary - and utterly ashamed. I've never set foot on a boat again.”

Others, of course, love being far out on the open water. Maria Coffey and her husband Dag paddled their folding kayak around the Solomon Islands, along the Ganges, across Lake Malawi, and down the Danube, a story she tells in her book A Boat in Our Baggage: Around the World With a Kayak. They journeyed all around the earth in a collapsible double kayak.

Would you really want to be traveling on the ocean in anything that was "collapsible"?

Imagine now, what the Israelites were feeling when they stood at the shore of the Red Sea. They were feeling trapped, with the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army at their backs. The Israelites were like cats - not a water-loving species - and when they looked to the sea they saw nothing but the waters of chaos, the place where danger lurks, where good things do not happen.

"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" they cried to Moses, their voices dripping with sarcasm (Exodus 14:11). How they wished at that moment that they were like the neighboring Phoenicians, accomplished navigators and sailors who made voyages throughout the Mediterranean for the establishment of colonies and commerce. If only the Israelites could have picked up some tricks from these successful seafarers who voyaged across the Mediterranean, outside the Straits of Gibraltar, into the Atlantic, and down the coast of Africa.

But at that moment, at the edge of the Red Sea, the Israelites had nothing. No vessel, ship, boat, canoe or raft. Not even a collapsible, double kayak.

Then God said, "There's no way but Yahweh." All they had was the power and presence of the one Lord God. And that, of course, was more than enough. Exodus tells us that "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" (14:21-22).

Then the pursuing armies went after them with horses, chariots and chariot drivers. But the Lord threw them into panic, clogged their chariot wheels, and then, as a final death blow, flooded the entire army of Pharaoh with the waters of the Red Sea. "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians," concludes Exodus; "and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore" (v. 30).

We know the famous story of this crossing. And we give thanks that God worked so powerfully in this event to save the lives of his chosen people. But we also know that in our own lives, we can't always count on a miracle to come along and get us out of a jam. When we find ourselves with a sea in front of us and an army at our backs, there is no promise that the sea will open up for us, that dry ground will appear, and that our enemies and opponents and pains and problems will be swallowed up in defeat behind us.

More often than not, we have to get in a boat and start rowing. And when we do, God makes a way when there seems to be no way.

When we face sea crossings in our personal lives, it is so important to put our trust in the same thing that the Israelites did: the power and presence of the one Lord God. We make a fatal error when we try to row across the sea ourselves, or put too much faith in our own cleverness and ingenuity. It's best to be honest about our human limitations, and to make a crossing in the style of Hannes Lindemann, who, in 1956, sailed solo across the Atlantic, putting up handmade sails to catch a power beyond himself, and who pulled raw fish like daily manna from the sea.

The promise of God to us is clear: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you" (Isaiah 43:2). The Lord gives us the assurance that he will be with us in all of our perilous passages, working to protect us and guide us and preserve us. The love of God for us is undeniable, and Scripture promises us that many waters cannot quench this love, neither can floods drown it (Song of Solomon 8:7). There is nothing in all creation, nothing on land or sea or air, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

So we, like the ancient Israelites, can count on God's power and God's presence and God's steadfast love when we face our own sea crossings. The Lord promises to bring us through the water - through the water of chaos, and danger, and even great beasts - and to see us safely to the other side. God promises to be with us when we face:

• The sea crossing of a fresh school year, with unfamiliar teachers, classmates and subjects…even in the midst of a pandemic.
• The sea crossing of a new job, with unexpected challenges and responsibilities.
• The sea crossing of a lost relationship, with feelings of regret and uncertainty and self-doubt.
• The sea crossing of a serious illness, with sadness and fear and exhaustion and pain.
• The sea crossing of a death in the family, with shock and anger and confusion and grief.
• The sea crossing of a new relationship, with feelings of excitement and hope and ever-present anxiety.

Through all these crossings, the Lord promises to be with us, giving us proper wind for our sails and nourishment for our spirits. All God asks is that we stay as close to God as God is to us, and that we trust God to be always at work for good in our lives. We should recall that in another famous sea crossing, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat being threatened by a terrible storm. Waves were swamping the boat and the disciples were panicking, and then Jesus woke up and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"

When the wind ceased, Jesus asked the disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:35-41).

These are good questions for us, as we face our own sea crossings. Do we have faith that God will preserve us from destruction? Do we trust that the Lord will give us courage and victory in the middle of our struggles? Do we believe that God will see us through the storm, and deliver us safely to the other side?

The sea is large and our boat is small. But with God we never sail alone.  Amen.

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
WORK IT OUT

9/06/2020

Matthew 18:15-20   (The Message)

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The woman in front of me was a woman of integrity, deep faith and sincere commitment to the church. She had been hired to be a pastoral assistant, and in that role she had contributed substantial time and amazing gifts to the congregation. She had asked for a meeting with me only after trying to speak with her supervisor, the administrative pastor.”

This is how Deanna Langle starts her story about this very difficult passage of scripture in the gospel of Matthew.  Deanna is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and is a student in the Ph.D. program in pastoral theology and pastoral counseling at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, TX.  She tells the story of this pastoral assistant who clearly has a deep dispute with the administrative--or senior—pastor, who was also her supervisor.  Uh oh.

When I first read this story, I could already feel the knot forming in my stomach, as I anticipated some kind of conflict coming. 

Deanna Langle goes on to say, “As [the pastoral assistant] worked with the congregation, her roots in the faith grew, as well as her knowledge and experience. Her voice gained clarity and authority. So when she noticed a problem, in this case the pastor’s misuse of power, she confronted the situation and challenged him. The senior pastor tried to silence her and ignore her. Reluctantly, she asked the executive council to hear her concern, but council members refused. The senior pastor had told them that the discussion must remain between the two of them. He quoted Matthew 18 in support of this decision: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” By complying with the pastor and his use of a biblical directive, the council members allowed him to protect himself and them from the truth.”

Matthew 18:15-20 is one of many scripture texts that have been used to harm others. These six verses are not meant to be a declaration of power, and these verses don’t mean that if two or three people agree on something, then they can ignore others and do whatever they want. These six verses are about listening and accountability and about a larger vision of God’s kingdom.

If we look at these verses in the context of all of chapter 18, we can see the hyperbole Jesus uses in a series of brief teachings. Some of these teachings we choose to take literally, and some we don’t. For example, we don’t drown others for being “stumbling blocks.” And we don’t encourage people to pluck out their eyes or cut off body parts because they’ve sinned. And most shepherds would not abandon 99 sheep to go looking for one sheep. Jesus’ exaggerated response to Peter’s question about forgiveness in verse 21 shows that he knows we want forgiveness to be a quick and simple answer although it’s not.

So what is the kernel of truth that is embedded in each of these teachings, especially in verses 15-20? What is Jesus trying to teach the disciples by using such exaggeration?

Chapter 18 begins with the disciples coming to Jesus with the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” I imagine Jesus being wide-eyed at what he was hearing. Were they seriously asking this of Jesus, whose ministry had always focused on the least?

Even so, Jesus doesn’t dismiss their self-centered and self-righteous question. He takes them seriously, he listens carefully and then responds, not with a direct or literal answer, but with several teachings and with exaggeration. Jesus pushes the disciples to think, to listen and to be accountable to others for the power they hold. The exaggeration allows the disciples the opportunity to learn without being embarrassed and to listen without becoming defensive. Jesus points them back to the “children,” the “little ones,” “the one that went astray,” “the one not listened to” and “the fellow slave.” The kingdom of God is not concerned with “who’s the greatest,” Jesus teaches; the kingdom of God is about using power to care for the least and most vulnerable.

Matthew 18:15-20 can be used to set up a vulnerable person to be even more vulnerable, as in the story Deanna Langle tells. By the power of his role and by his misuse of scripture, the senior pastor disempowered the pastoral assistant, denied her the process of being heard, protected himself and silenced the truth. Hiding behind their reading of this text, the pastor and the whole executive council avoided listening, stopped conversation and the possibility of healing, and joined their voices with the disciples in asking, “Who’s the greatest?” Is that what Jesus is pointing us to in this text? Or is that what we point to when we think we’re the greatest?

We must listen to and read texts like these carefully and honor the questions and tensions they raise for us. If we listen with “new ears” we will always hear something different from what we expect. That’s why Jesus uses hyperbole: to help the disciples hear the gospel of God’s love in different ways, through different experiences, with different language and images. Langle says, “If the Bible is a closed word and merely an answer book, then we’re in trouble. We’ll continue to use scripture to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify such harm in God’s name. In this, we will limit God. That’s not an exaggeration.”

Jesus could have used his power to tell the disciples exactly what he thought of their question, but he chose to listen, to open up conversation and to teach. The Bible invites us to enter into an ongoing conversation as people of faith who struggle with what it means to live faithfully in relationship, and to look beyond ourselves.

That’s what we all need to be reminded of today; God’s call to a radical inclusivity where we take the other seriously, listen to the other, and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do.

It’s not easy, but with God’s help, we can do it.  Amen!

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
BE LIKE CLIFF

8/30/2020

Be Like Cliff!            

John 1:1-9  (NRSV)

I received an email this week from a woman who told me she was starting to feel hopeful last week after what she called a very long four years.  But this week, she said, she started to feel the darkness creeping back in as she read and listened to the top news stories of the week.  It has clearly been another tough week in our country.  She ended her message by saying, “I live in hope, so all we can do is persevere and keep moving forward. Let us all be Cliff.”

Cliff?  Who’s Cliff?  I scrolled down in her email and found this supposedly true story written by Ann Voskamp in her Daily (Good) News Letter.  Turns out the story is true…takes place in 1983 in Australia.  It’s a story about Cliff Young, and it’s a deeper story about darkness and light.  That’s what caught my attention.  That’s what I want you to hear in this story.  It’s what we all need to hear.  Darkness cannot overcome light.

 

“The old cahoot ran in his boots.

 

Weren’t too many of anybody all who believed the old guy could.

 

The kids and I read about the old guy one night after supper and the dishwasher’s moaning away, crumbs still across the counter.

 

How the old guy ran for 544 miles. His name was Cliff Young and he wasn’t so much. He was 61 years old. He was a farmer. Levi grins big.

 

Mr. Young showed up for the race in his Osh Kosh overalls and with his workboots on, with galoshes over top. In case it rained.

 

He had no Nike sponsorship. He had no wife – hadn’t had one ever. Lived with his mother. Never ran in any kind of race before. Never ran a 5 mile race, or a half-marathon, not even a marathon.

 

But there he was standing in his workboots at the starting line of an ultra-marathon, the most gruelling marathon in the world, a 544 mile marathon.

 

Try wrapping your head around pounding the concrete with one foot after another for 544 endless, stretching miles. They don’t measure races like that in yards – but in zip codes.

 

First thing Cliff did was take out his teeth. Said his false teeth rattled when he ran.

 

Said he grew up on a farm with sheep and no four wheelers, no horses, so the only way to round up sheep was on the run. Sometimes the best training for the really big things is just the everyday things.

 

 

 

 

That’s what Cliff said: “Whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go run and round up the sheep.” 2,000 head of sheep. 2,000 acres of land.

 

“Sometimes I’d have to run those sheep for two or three days. I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”

 

“Got any backers?” Reporters shoved their microphones around old Cliff like a spike belt.

 

“No….” Cliff slipped his hands into his overall pockets.

 

“Then you can’t run.”

 

Cliff looked down at his boots. Does man need backers or does a man need to believe? What you believe is what is backing you.

 

The other runners, all under a buffed 30 years of age, they take off like pumped shots from that starting line. And scruffy old Cliff staggers forward. He doesn’t run. Shuffles, more like it. Straight back. Arms dangling. Feet awkwardly shuffling along.

 

Cliff eats dust.

 

For 18 hours, the racers blow down the road, far down the road, and old Cliff shuffles on behind.

 

Come the pitch black of night, the runners in their $400 ergonomic Nikes and Adidas, lay down by the roadside, because that’s the plan to win an ultra-marathon, to run 544 straight miles: 18 hours of running, 6 hours of sleeping, rinse and repeat for 5 days, 6 days, 7 days.

 

The dark falls in. Runners sleep. Cameras get turned off. Reporters go to bed.

 

And through the black night, one 61-year-old man far behind keeps shuffling on.

 

And all I can think is:

 

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

 

Cliff Young runs on through the night and there is a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not master it.

 

The darkness doesn’t understand the light, doesn’t comprehend the light, doesn’t get the light, doesn’t overcome the light, doesn’t master the light.

 

Darkness doesn’t have anything on light, on hope, on faith.

 

The pitch black road of a pandemic and economic hardships and all the things that seem to go on and on right now, it’s all no master over the light of Master who is rising within us.

 

The darkness that sucks at the prodigal kid doesn’t have anything on the light of his mother’s prayers.

 

The night of discouragement that threatens at the edges doesn’t master the blazing light of Jesus at the center.

 

The pit of depression that plunges deep doesn’t go deeper than the love of your Jesus and there is no place His light won’t go to find you, to save you, to hold you.

 

That low lying storm cloud that hangs over you can’t master the light of Christ that raises you.

 

Darkness can’t drive out darkness. Only light can do that,” Martin Luther King had said it, had lived it.

 

Only words of Light can drive out worlds of dark.
Only deeds of Light can drive out depths of dark.
Only lives of Light can drive out lies of dark.

 

Darkness can never travel as fast as Light. No matter how bad things get, no matter how black the dark seeps in, no matter the depths of the night — the dark can never travel as fast as Light. The Light is always there first, waiting to shatter the dark.

  

Cliff Young runs on through the dark — because he didn’t know you were supposed to stop.

 

He had no idea that the accepted way professional runners approached an ultra-marathon race was to run 18 hours, sleep 6, for 7 days straight. But Cliff Young didn’t know that. He didn’t know the accepted way. He only knew what he did regularly back home, the way he had always done it: You run through the dark.

 

Turns out when Cliff Young said he gathered sheep around his farm for three days, he meant he’d run across 2,000 acres of farmland for three days straight without stopping or sleeping, without the dark ever stopping him. You gathered sheep by running through the dark.

 

So along the endless stretches of highway, a tiny shadow of an old man shuffled along, one foot after another, right through the heat, right through the night. Cliff gained ground.

 

Cliff gained ground because he didn’t lose ground to the dark. Cliff gained ground because he ran through the dark.

 

And somewhere at the outset of the night, Cliff Young in his overalls, he shuffled past the toned runners half his age. And by the morning light, teethless Cliff Young who wasn’t young at all, he was a tiny shadow — far, far ahead of the professional athletes.

 

For five days and fifteen hours, and four minutes straight, Cliff Young ran, never once stopping for the dark – never stopping until the old sheep farmer crossed the finish line – First. He crossed the finish line first.

 

Beating a world record.

 

By two. whole. days.

 

The second place runner crossed the finish line 9 hours after old Cliff.

 

 

 

 

And when they handed old Cliff Young his $10,000 prize , he said he hadn’t known there was a prize. Said he’d run for the wonder of it. Said that all the other runners had worked hard too. So Cliff Young waited at the finish line and handed each of the runners an equal share of the 10K.

 

And then the old cahoot in boots walked away without a penny for the race but with all the hearts of the whole world.

 

While others run fast, you can just shuffle with perseverance.
While others impress, you can simply press on.
While others stop for the dark, you can run through the dark.

 

The race is won by those who keep running through the dark.

 

(This) could be the season to pull a Cliff Young.

 

When those reporters asked Old Cliff that afterward, what had kept him running through the nights, Cliff had said, “I imagined I was outrunning a storm to gather up my sheep.”

 

And I sit there in the thickening dark.

 

With the One who mastered the dark and overcame the storm to gather His sheep and now there is a Light Who shines in the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it.

 

And you can see them out the front window, far away to the west, out there on the highway —

 

the lights all going on through the dark, chasing the sunrise that they know beyond all the shadows is surely coming.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
one tangled family

8/23/2020

Exodus 1:8-2:10    (The Message)

At first, Jochebed hid him. When Shiphrah and Puah, the canny midwives, put the baby boy in her weary arms, what other choice did she have? His very strength was a liability, his very existence a reason for fear. And so his mama held him close. Sheltered him. Whispered his name in his ear, his hidden first Hebrew name that no one else would ever know. Repeated to him, over and over again: you are strong. You are loved. Your life matters.

But in the end, she had no choice but to send him out. All mamas have to give their boys to the wider world someday; they can’t hold on forever. They offer whatever they can to protect them. A basket of papyrus with the cracks sealed tight. A long talk about what to do when stopped by police. The address of an uncle on the other side of the border. The watchful eye of an older sister, thrust into a role of responsibility when she should still be home playing dolls. Mamas try to wrap their love around their sons like a bulletproof vest, and yet the world comes anyway, like a river current, carrying them off into danger.

As the fragile little boat bobbed among the reeds, the Egyptian princess Bithiah took notice. She was a person whose existence had never been hidden, whose voice had never been silenced. She’d always had everything she needed. She carried her power as easily as her servants carried her towels and soap. Jochebed’s beloved baby boy was at the mercy of a person of privilege.

Worse, a woman of privilege. Privileged women are dangerous. Our good intentions stymie meaningful action. Our tears stop dialogue and draw attention back to our hurt feelings, distracting from the matter at hand. Our toxic charity keeps poor people poor. Our emergency calls summon agents of disaster. Our accusations lead to lynching. Our privilege kills.

As a woman of privilege, Bithiah had a choice when she heard the baby’s cries. She could have easily responded out of loyalty to the system that gave her every advantage. She could have called Egyptian 911 to come eliminate this infant threat. Alternatively, she could have responded with paternalistic benevolence, sending the boy to an Egyptian nursery where he’d never know his own people.

But she did neither of those things. Instead, something pushed Bithiah beyond her privilege. The Bible calls it “pity,” but it seems deeper than a surface sympathy. It sounds more like the pity Jesus feels for the leper in Mark 1:41: a gut-wrenching reorientation toward the other. It sounds more like the relentless call of justice: the sense that something about this was just not right and the certainty that she was equipped to change it.

Bithiah could have wielded her privilege like a weapon, as so many women have done before and since. But instead, she applied it as a tool enabling her to serve. With the help of her maids, she lifted the boy out of the water, giving him a new life and a new name: Moses. Then she re-enmeshed him in his own culture and reconnected him with his own family: Miriam as his companion, Jochebed as his nurse. Even more radically, Bithiah found a way to compensate Jochebed for the usually unpaid work of mothering, offering wages for her labor. No one other than a princess could have flaunted Pharaoh’s murderous laws so completely.

The Bible offers only the faintest hint of what happened to Bithiah next. Our scriptures are understandably unconcerned with the stories of powerful people, preferring the scrappy underdogs God favors. We don’t find Bithiah again in Exodus. We don’t know how she reacted when the baby she saved grew up to be an exiled murderer and then a stammering prophet. We have no idea if she ever spoke to her father in the midst of the plagues, leveraging her power on behalf of her adopted son and his family. We don’t know how she felt that night when Moses led the people far away from her river, across the Red Sea.

And yet, deep in the dusty parts of First Chronicles, where they list the long genealogies of the people of Israel, we find this note under the descendants of Judah: “One of Mered’s wives gave birth to Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah the father of Eshtemoa. . . . These were the children of Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, whom Mered had married.”

In the end, it seems, the princess became part of the family, linked not just by adoption but also by marriage. The noblewoman attended by servants became a wilderness refugee, wandering with her new clan for 40 years in the shadow of Sinai. She gave birth to her own vulnerable children and named her daughter after that brave girl at the riverside. Bithiah became Jesus’ great-great-auntie, an unlikely ancestor winking from his family tree.

Jochebed’s children still make their perilous journeys today, armed with little but their mama’s fierce love. And Bithiahs aplenty sunbathe by the riverside, capable of casual cruelty but also—at our best—able to subvert the very systems that sustain us. God calls us into holy conspiracy and invites us into one tangled family, for the sake of the most vulnerable. For God’s own sake.

 

(Liddy Barlow, Executive Minister of Christian Association of Southwest PA, in the August 12, 2020 edition of The Christian Century.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
so many scars

8/16/2020

Genesis 45:1-15  (NRSV)

If you are a person of a certain age, there’s a pretty good chance that you have a series of scars on your body that reflect a childhood lived without bicycle helmets, elbow and knee pads, and a host of other safety devices designed to keep today’s kids safe. That banana-seated Schwinn bike with the sissy bar on the back and chopper wheel on the front no doubt led to a couple trips to the emergency room, a few stitches, and a good story.

Every scar is a memory, revealing an unfortunate accident, a random act of stupidity, or some kind of injustice. Maybe you were trying to imitate Evel Knievel on that rickety plywood ramp, or maybe the neighborhood bully hit you with a rock thrown in contempt. Or maybe the scars are less visible and yet run much deeper, the result of a deep woundedness of the soul. However we got them, scars remind us that life isn’t fair and can be painful. Every time we look at a scar, we remember the story.

The Joseph story is a scar story about a young man’s woundedness and recovery. He has a lot of scars, and yet Joseph is able to interpret them in light of the larger story that God has in mind for him and his people. They are scars that are less badges of honor and more signposts pointing to the kind of suffering love that God has for us and for the world.

To recap the story in Genesis up to chapter 45, Joseph has been in Egypt for quite a while. As a boy, Joseph was a dreamer and the favorite of his father, Jacob, which led to no small amount of jealousy among his older brothers. His father made him “a long robe with sleeves,” which implies that his dad thought him to be a little more special than the others and expected him to do less work (Genesis 37:3). Joseph’s dreams had his brothers bowing down to him, and Joseph was young enough (and naive enough?) to tell them about it, and so the sibling rivalry boiled over. When Joseph goes out one day to check on his brothers at his father’s request, they finally decide to get rid of him by tossing him into a well, stripping off his fancy coat, and then selling him into slavery. The brothers told their father he was eaten by a wild animal and presented their dad with the coat smeared in goat’s blood as fake proof — easy to do in the days before DNA testing!

Joseph is brought as a slave to Egypt and sold to an official named Potiphar, who saw Joseph’s potential and put him in charge of the household. Potiphar’s wife saw Joseph’s potential, too, but not as a worker. When Joseph refused to have an affair with her on moral grounds, she falsely accuses him of rape and has him thrown into prison.

If you’re keeping score, that’s at least two major scars: being sold unjustly as a slave and being unjustly accused of a crime. But Joseph doesn’t pick at those wounds. Instead, he makes a favorable impression on the prison warden, who puts him in charge of the other prisoners. He becomes the interpreter of their dreams as well, and eventually rises again from the dungeon to interpret the dreams of the Egyptian Pharaoh himself. When Joseph predicts a great famine to come, Pharaoh appoints him as the equivalent of the prime minister in charge of the social and economic affairs of the empire. Once again, he is wearing a coat with long sleeves!

The famine strikes hard in Joseph’s homeland of Canaan, where his still-in-the-dark father and scheming brothers still reside. They hear that there is grain stored up in Egypt, so they decide to take a shopping trip there, not knowing from whom they would be buying!

That’s the recap of the story between Genesis 37 and 45. Joseph’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster to this point, with very high highs and low lows. There was plenty to celebrate but also plenty about which he could be bitter, especially toward the ones who put him in this situation. Joseph no doubt had scars from being tossed in the well, scars from being tossed in the dungeon, scars of rejection, scars of false accusation, and scars from longing to be in his father’s presence once again.

And now, here in Genesis 45, Joseph stands over his begging brothers who don’t yet recognize him, scarred for life by what they had done to him. He has every right to see himself as a victim, and we wouldn’t blame him if he wanted some payback.

But Joseph refuses to give in to victimhood. He does not view his physical and emotional scars as reasons for despair or revenge. Incredibly, Joseph instead sees his scars as signs of God’s providential grace.

Joseph “could no longer control himself” in that moment (45:1). He sent everyone out of the room except his brothers and, through his loud, wailing tears, he reveals the truth to them: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” (v. 3). His brothers couldn’t answer him. They were terrified, speechless, almost not believing what they were hearing and seeing. They had to believe that payback was coming swiftly.

But Joseph isn’t there to inflict more scars on them. “I am your brother, Joseph,” he said to them, “whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (vv. 4-5). Indeed, Joseph says, it was not you, my brothers, who sent me here, but it was God (v. 8). And because of God’s provision, Joseph’s family now had a place to go to survive the famine and, in effect, preserve the covenant God had made with Abraham earlier in Genesis.

Joseph looks back at the events of his life with a new vision where the scars of pain, injustice, rejection, and separation were only part of the story. Fast forward to Genesis 50:20, where he sums up all that he has learned from his scars. “Even though you intended to do harm to me,” Joseph says to his brothers, “God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” It takes a lot of work to get to this point, but Joseph now understands that what the world and the human scheme planned as an evil, self-serving act, God took and used for good, preserving life!

One of the persistent puzzles of our human experience is how we deal with evil in the world. As humans in a fallen world, we seem to live lives of constant jeopardy. We are vulnerable to a wide range of evil, from sickness, to crime, to family dysfunction, to oppression, to all sorts of uncontrollable, wound-inflicting mayhem. In the midst of all of that, it’s a legitimate question to ask, “Where is God in all of this?”

Joseph’s story reminds us that despite all evidence to the contrary, God is still at work. God is making things good despite appearances. We suffer the scars, but the wounds of this life are not ultimately fatal for those who put their trust in him.

Does this mean that every tragedy we experience has a silver lining? That all evil is really good and that all our suffering is somehow being orchestrated by God? Not at all.  We don’t ask for these scars we carry, nor did God inflict them on us; and yet, those scars can make known to the world how God can make good out of the worst situations.

What scars do you carry? What are the physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual scars that mark your life? How might they become signs of healing and opportunities for a new vision of life for you and others you meet? Joseph looked at the scars of slavery and saw that God had a saving plan for his life and the lives of his people. Perhaps the scars you carry can enable you to speak into the pain of someone else’s life. Showing that scar of past abuse may help others have the courage to seek healing. Revealing that pain of loss may put you in a powerful position to help others who are grieving.

Scars never go away, and yet the scars tell a story, and that story can lead us and others around us to healing when we realize that God is still at work making all things good.

May it be so for each of us, for those we love, and for those we will never come to know.  Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
is there an easier way?

8/9/2020

Matthew 14:22-33  (The Message)

I laughed out loud when I read Teri Ott’s comment about our scripture passage this morning, the passage where Jesus invites Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water with him…in the midst of a storm.  Teri Ott said, “Peter has always seemed to me to be the naïve, overeager, overachiever type.  He’s like the kid who sits in the front of the classroom and raises his hand, hops up and down in his seat, and shouts, “Me! Me! Pick me!” to every question the teacher asks.  Peter is far from perfect, but he wants so badly to be perfect, he wants so badly to please Jesus and to prove his faith. So when Jesus approaches the disciples’ boat, walking on the water, overeager Peter thinks he should walk on the water too.  So he asks Jesus to command him to come to him.”

Even if you didn’t just hear the story I bet you could see where it is headed.  Jesus invites Peter to step out of the boat. Peter gets out, takes a few shaky steps on the water, then panics because the wind, and the storm, and the waves are still raging around him.  Peter sinks.  Jesus has to save him.  Then they both get in the boat and the storm, miraculously, ceases to rage.  This is the point where I imagine Peter, wet and water-logged, traumatized by his near drowning, and humiliated for being told he had so “little faith,” is thinking to himself, “Okay, Jesus.  Couldn’t you have made this a little easier?  Couldn’t you have made the storm cease before I stepped out of the boat?”

Have you ever found yourself asking this question?  Why is faith so difficult?  Why does Jesus call his followers out of the safety and security of the boat into the middle of a storm?  Why does faith require so much courage, and effort, and strength of will?  Couldn’t you make this a little easier, Jesus?

But faith isn’t easy.  By its very nature, faith isn’t easy.  Faith is not something that we can rationalize, or explain, or even obtain with any measure of success.  If we were to attempt to explain it we might talk about reaching for the unreachable, or finite hands grasping for that which is infinite.  Faith is hope in the face of despair; it is love in the face of hatred; it is peace in the face of violence; it is beauty in the face of ugliness; it is justice in the face of injustice; it is courage in the face of fear.  Faith is a dynamic, spirited force that moves us from the place where we are to the place where we ought to be.

Which is why it is so difficult.  Faith is supposed to move us.  Faith is supposed to change us.  Faith is supposed to better us and open us, deepen us and mature us. And that journey isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s the most difficult, most intimidating, most risk-filled journey we will ever take because it means consistently stepping out of the safety of the boat into the wind and the waves and the storm.

Jeff Dunn tells the story of his friends, Seth and Emily, who clearly heard God call them to give up all they had and move to another country for a specific task. They sold or gave away most everything they had accumulated over the years, packed up what was left, and went with their four young children to a country half-way around the world.

At first, they hated everything about where they lived. They put on a brave face and tried to find the good, but it was so different from what they were used to, so strange and hostile that it took all of their emotional strength to make it through each day. After a few months they had made some friends. Then they became connected to a group of believers who helped them in the transition. Several months later, they were starting to feel settled–a bit–in their new home.

Then the roof caved in. The task they went to accomplish completely collapsed. It was devastating. Why would God call them to such a place when it was doomed from the beginning? Seth and Emily went about the task of giving away all they had accumulated in this land and returned to the States. Their lives were shattered. They went in faith, faith in the God who called them, and felt God let them down. This couple now limps through their days, wondering how they will make it.

If you wanted to hear a cheery story of someone who trusted God and everything turned out to be sunshine and roses, I’m sorry. Most of life is not like that, is it? And yet we are told to believe God, to live by faith. We have all seen the “Miracle Rally” on TV where people line up to testify how God has healed them of blindness, deafness, shortened legs, halitosis, and other ailments. And yet just down the street we know of the wife and mother of three young children who lies in bed, withered up from the cancer that is killing her. And no matter how many people pray and fast and claim her healing, she will die. It gets to the point where we ask, “Why bother believing at all? Why does it have to be so hard?”

The only answer I can give you is this: Because it is the way God has commanded us to live. 

I believe God wired me to be an encourager of people, to uplift people who are discouraged or beaten down, or who are trying to slog their way through years of guilt or shame or sadness or disappointment.  My deepest desire is to help people have hope. And, (more times than I care to remember) I simply cannot see what in the world God is up to.  I cannot understand – with my limited brain capacity – what God could possibly be trying to accomplish.  And, to make it even more complicated, I cannot imagine stepping out of the boat – that place where I am comfortable and content – into the storm – that place where I know I am going to be challenged and changed.

Theologian Paul Tillich describes faith as “dynamic.”  If faith becomes static, if it fails to move us, open us, deepen us, better us, then it is no longer faith.  Instead it is an idol; it is simply another idol that we put up on the mantle to worship but with which we don’t actually do anything.

Couldn’t you make this a little easier, Jesus?  Thanks be to God the answer is “No.”

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
you do it

8/2/2020

Matthew 14:13-21  (NRSV)

Sue Clemmer-Steiner tells the story about how, a couple of times a summer, a thin man dressed in black would politely knock on her family’s back door about an hour before suppertime. She tells how his face looked old and weather-beaten, and how, despite the heat, he always wore layers of clothing. She tells about how the little cart with his belongings sat by the front gate.

She says, “He would ask my mom if there was any food he could have that night. So she made extra of whatever she was preparing for dinner, keeping me inside the house while the man waited on the back steps. She filled a plate for him, and he sat on the steps and ate. After finishing his dinner he knocked on the door, said thank you, and continued on his way.

“Afterward my dad would launch into stories of the many hobos who passed through our small Pennsylvania town on freight trains during the Depression, looking for a meal and sometimes sleeping in the sheds at the family feed mill. “They’re homeless,” said my dad, “down on their luck, and it’s good for us to feed them.”

Sue Clemmer-Steiner ends the story by saying, “My mom’s action, supported by my dad, left a deep impression on me. If she could feed someone so strange and different in our own yard, right outside our back door, I had some thinking to do about who belongs in our circle of interest and concern.”

As she reflected on that memory from sixty years earlier, she said she realized that what really jumped out at her in this story in Matthew of the feeding of the 5,000 were the words “You give them something to eat”. Reading her reflection made me pay attention to those words, as well.

As Matthew tells the story, the disciples recognize they have a problem. The people listening to Jesus by the lakeside are surely hungry, and the disciples have done their homework. As they see it, there’s precious little available here to eat. So they imagine a practical, albeit improbable, solution: send hordes of people off to neighboring villages to buy food.

Jesus’ startling response—“You give them something to eat!”—seems even more improbable. But as usual, Jesus is operating out of a different paradigm; he’s embodying a different script.

The disciples react the way we tend to react. Jesus made it clear that he regarded the feeding task to be their responsibility as it is ours today. He assumed that they could do what he had asked them to do. God doesn't lay a responsibility on us that we're not capable of fulfilling.

But, they came back at him: "We have nothing ..." Of course this statement was qualified—perhaps in a dismissive way—by the "five loaves and two fish" that they did have. So I was left to wonder…how many times, when God has called us, have we either not answered, or have we begged off?

· "I have nothing."
· "I'm too old for this sort of thing."
· "I'm sorry, but I have issues."
· "I'm too busy."
· "I've already given and done my bit."
· "We should let the younger folk do it."
· "I'm not ordained."
· "I don't know too much about the Bible."
· "This is not my gift."
· "I've got too much on my own plate right now."

The disciples, when told "you give them something to eat," were unaware that they had the resources to fulfill Jesus' command. They didn't understand it, but they did have something!

When we pay attention to the rest of the story, Jesus' point is clear: “You give what you have and I will take care of the distribution issues.” The miracle, then, was not only one of feeding, but of opening the imagination and faith of those doing the feeding.

Our God is a lavish God. God deals generously, giving much out of little. Our God is a generous God, a God of great abundance. The measure we get back is far greater than the measure we give. But we've got to stop thinking, "We have nothing."

The disciples didn't make the miracle happen, but without them the Miracle of the Multiplication, the Miracle of the Abundant Sharing, this miracle of community building, would never have happened.

What God provided that day was more than enough. What God provides for us today is more than enough. Our faith, which can grow to abundant proportions, can be strong enough to get us through any hard times. Jesus knew this and he taught this.

Let us have ears to truly hear.  Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Then the leaven does its work

7/26/2020

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52  (NRSV)

When Jesus tells a story, he compels us to look at holy things with new eyes, and he illustrates his stories with references to ordinary things. Jesus told stories about ordinary things to explain the extraordinary, the inexplicable.

His gift of imagery is one of the great gifts available to us as humans. Because most of us never outgrow our childhood love of pictures, we respond well to teaching that invites us to create pictures in our minds. Imagery helps us to grasp that which cannot be quantified, measured or neatly captured in words, charts or formulas. With images, we manage to approach the intellectually and spiritually unfathomable because we are led gently, told that a God who ultimately is beyond our comprehension is like a shepherd, a king, a loving parent, a mighty fortress or a maternal figure with great sheltering wings.

In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching his friends about the kingdom of heaven, which is the same as the kingdom of God. Although kings are now pretty much out of fashion, and the mystique of royalty has declined, they were real figures of absolute power and grandeur in Jesus’ time. I doubt that his hearers had had any more direct contact with kings than any of us has had. But they understood the vocabulary of kings and kingdoms even though they did not always understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.

We have enough residual memory to catch a glimpse what Jesus is telling us about God and God’s reign. When he speaks of the “Kingdom of heaven,” we are reminded that God is absolute, that God’s reign is not a democracy or even a republic. At the same time, we’re reminded of our own smallness and limitations in God’s great economy.

And when we pray regularly, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we realize that we aren’t praying for the establishment of some grandiose political entity in the fashion of extravagant King Herod or the British Empire in its glory days.

So what are we praying for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come”? What are we asking for?

This week I watched as a church pastor cast out the question to her congregation, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?”  She got a lot of responses!  Some of them were describing a place that I would expect people to imagine:  a peaceful place, a wonderful place where we reunite, a place like Narnia during the good years, a place with no walls, a place of fresh air and the constant presence of Christ.  A couple of the responses particularly caught my attention:  heaven is a place with no Covid, no masks, no social distancing, no hand sanitizer, no politics.  Another one said: At the heavenly supermarket, there will be a cooler of half gallon jugs of milk—whole milk.  Fat content not important.  And one response was simply this:  It’s gonna blow your mind.

So what are we praying for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come?”  What are we asking for?

Jesus gives us some hints. It’s like this, this and this, he says—offering intriguing bits of imagery for all sorts of people: the farmer who finds a treasure in the field, the shrewd financier who recognizes the ultimate good investment, the plant enthusiast who marvels at the growth produced by one tiny seed, the angler who finds a shallow place full of fish, and—an image appealing to a lot of people, apparently, particularly during the early days of confinement during the Covid-19 shut down—the homemaker preparing to bake bread.

There are common qualities in these images. The kingdom of heaven is hidden, buried in a field or in the depths of sea.  It’s of great value, a treasure or a pearl. Moreover, despite an unremarkable outward appearance, it possesses surprising power. The unremarkable mustard seed contains an astonishing potential for growth, while leaven—ordinary old leaven that doesn’t look like much—has the power to transform all that surrounds it.

Margaret Guenther once wrote about being a bit of a baker in the Christian Century. She said, “At one time I was a fairly competent bread maker. I baked all our family’s bread and came to know and respect the mysterious power of leaven. The yeast I used was a grainy, grayish substance without much taste or smell. In Jesus’ time, the yeast was a little lump of active dough that was carefully saved from a previous baking. Like my little packets of yeast, it carried within it the secret of growth and fermentation, the power to change something that vastly exceeded it in volume. A couple of spoonfuls could work amazing changes in a bowl of flour.

“But leaven sitting all by itself can’t do anything. It needs the right conditions: it must be mixed with flour; the temperature must be warm enough but not too warm; there must be liquid and a bit of salt.

“Then the leaven does its work, quietly, taking its own time, but ultimately transforming a sodden, useless lump of dough into bread.”

She goes on to talk about how she loves this picture of the subversiveness of God, even if it makes her uneasy to contemplate the hiddenness of God’s kingdom. This kingdom is right here, right now, as invisible and as unobtrusive as a lively, enlivening bit of leaven stirred into the inertness of the flour.

Jesus reminds us that the kingdom is both coming and already here. He reminds us that the power of God can be and is working in us if we let ourselves be open to it and take it into ourselves. After all, like the leaven that works only when it is combined with flour, the kingdom of God, the power of God, is among us, permeating every aspect of our lives, changing, enlightening and transforming us.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…in us and through us, O God.  Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
so many seeds

7/19/2020

 Matthew 13:2-9   (The Message)

Today’s scripture reading from Matthew obviously points us to the garden, which can be challenging for me because—I am telling you this very directly—I am not a gardener.  You may be thinking to yourself that I am just being modest about this.  I am not.  Trust me.  Gardening is not a gift I possess.

 

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  In my backyard, all along the length of my house, I once had a landscaper come and create a lovely “garden” for me.  He planted 2 arbor vitae, some azaleas (a favorite of mine since I was a young girl), a lily or two, some hostas, and in the middle of it all he positioned this wrought iron love seat that I inherited with the house.  So lovely!  My heart overflowed at the beauty and the neatness and the symmetry of it all.

 

And the best part of it all was this:  all that was required of me, over time, was a little trimming, pulling some weeds, and maybe replacing some mulch here and there.  Nothing in this garden needed—I thought—anything from me to actually thrive.

 

This Spring, I didn’t even step into my backyard until late May.  Looking back, that was probably a mistake.  By the time I went out to look around, there was this “plant”—bright green, leafy, clearly thriving all on its own—and it was covering almost every inch of my “garden.”  I was stunned.  It seemed my azaleas were no where to be seen.  My hostas could barely breathe.  The arbor vitae were having trouble standing their ground.

 

Weeks later, when I finally went out to start reclaiming the garden, I discovered this “plant,” (whatever it was) was so easy to pull out of the soil.  So I sat down on my little rolling garden cart (also inherited with the house) and went to work.  The “plants”, by this time, were up to my knees but I just waded into the thick of them and sat down and started methodically pulling, filling bags and bags of whatever this plant was.

 

I was a full hour into this process, feeling pretty good about my progress (I had completely cleared ½ of the garden) when a thought popped into my head.  “I wonder what poison ivy looks like.”

 

I am not a gardener, I tell you.  But I know enough from listening to those of you who ARE gardeners, that seeds can come from anywhere.  They can fly in on the wind.  They can get dropped into my backyard by birds.  New things can come from seeds that were long ago planted in the soil in my backyard, long before I ever came along. Or a sower can plant new seeds.

 

One Sunday morning, Diane Schroeder and I were talking about the flowering gardens at her house.  She asked if I had flowers and I told her I didn’t have many.  I wasn’t a gardener and I didn’t want anything that required a lot of time and energy from me to stay beautiful.  She was perplexed, I think, and offered to come to my house and scatter some seeds….No!  I gently yelled.  The very thought of seeds being scattered willy-nilly around the garden made my heart skip a beat.  And not in a good way. 

 

And now there’s the story in the gospel of Matthew about a sower, and a bunch of seeds!  And when I read Nadia Bolz Weber’s reflection on the scripture, I have to say I was surprised, because she encouraged me to see in the story joy, not distress about seeds being thrown willy-nilly, and not judgment of the different kinds of soil on which it lands.  She writes, “Maybe the point of this parable isn’t judgment at all, maybe it’s joy.  Since again and again in the midst of this thorny and rocky good world, God is still sowing a life-giving Word.  Just wantonly and indiscriminately scattering it everywhere like God doesn’t understand our rules.”  Or, at least, not “my rules” about how “my gardens” should be. 

 

She goes on to say that if this is true, if God is throwing God’s Word around without any anxiety about where it lands, then “the thing we call the Word is not something relegated to religious institutions and ordained clergy and the piety police.  The thing we call the Word isn’t locked up in some spiritual ivory tower.  I am persuaded,” she says, “that the Word of the Lord is anything that brings good news to the poor, and comfort to those who mourn.  Whatever heals the brokenhearted.  Whatever opens prisons.

 

“The Word is whatever brings freedom to slaves.  Whatever brings freedom to former slaves.  Whatever brings freedom to the descendants of former slaves.  The Word is whatever liberates a nation from the spiritual bondage of human bondage.”

 

What Nadia Bolz Weber planted in my mind is this image that God’s Word is scattered all around us…”joyfully scrawled on protest signs and heard in newborns’ cries, and seen in city streets and county fairs and shopping malls.  The Word of the Lord is written on the broken tablets of our hearts, it is falling like rain in the tears of the forgiven, it is harnessed in the laughter of our children.”  (By the way, if you haven’t heard the laughter of children lately, just Google “videos of laughing children” and your day will be sweet!)

 

Maybe, just maybe, we can focus on the lush and ludicrous image of God extravagantly sowing the Word of the Kingdom, and see in this parable great joy, instead of judgment.  And, as Nadia left me thinking, “Isn’t life just too short, too sacred and too important to skimp on joy?  Isn’t the world too precarious right now to forgo joy?”

 

The world is, indeed, precarious right now.  Let’s commit to looking for the joy of God in the midst of it all!  Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Light for the path

7/12/2020

 Psalm 119:105

Erik Weihenmayer is an amazing athlete and adventurer. He’s kayaked all 277 miles of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, which, according to one source, is “considered one of the most formidable whitewater venues in the world.” He has climbed the “seven summits” of the world, that is, the highest mountain peak on all seven continents.

He has climbed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

He has biked from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

He has climbed Mount Everest. And after accomplishing this feat, he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine.

Erik Weihenmayer is blind. Unsighted. Can’t see.

He’s been this way since he was a kid. When he was only 15 months old, he was diagnosed with juvenile retinoschisis. Doctors said he would be totally blind by age 13. And he was.

When giving interviews, he tells the story of a descent off the face of El Capitan. He was with several other climbers. They had already spent at least one night in a sling-enhanced encampment on the face, and were now trying to get off the mountain before nightfall.

They failed. Night descended on them before they were able to finish their descent. They were all in the dark. So they turned to the one man who had the most experience climbing in the dark: Erik. He led them down and out on the last pitch.

The blind leading the sighted.

Think of the psalmist as a less-talented Erik Weihenmayer.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” he writes in verse 105.

Sometimes it happens — we’re in the dark. We’re clueless. In uncharted territory without lights, signal markers, hints, landmarks, white roadside stripes, a flashlight, a smartphone or infrared night-vision googles.

These times in our lives can be terrifying. They often immobilize a person. Life comes to a standstill.

Yet, the psalmist does not feel this way. This text suggests that the traveler is both in the dark and walking an unknown path, and that is why the traveler is so glad to have a lamp or a light. It illuminates where the feet are stepping, and it shows the path ahead. These are two important considerations. You don’t want to put your foot on a rock or root that might sprain your ankle or might make you trip and fall. And, second, we want to have some advance notice of what’s ahead, perhaps to avoid stepping headlong into a ditch, or worse, an abyss. We want to have some sense of where we’re going.

So, imagine if you will, you’re traveling in the family SUV at night on a narrow, two-lane road. You’re returning from a long day away in a nearby city, where one of the kids was in a swim meet. You’re tired, the road is unfamiliar, and it’s raining lightly. You are driving and you frequently choose to use your low beams rather than the high beams. You want to have a clear view of the immediate road ahead. You don’t like surprises. You want clarity. You want a nice, wide view.

Sometimes we need this kind of light in our own lives.  We need the flashlight, the torch, the low beams to illuminate the real estate immediately before us. We want to know if dangers, hazards or problems lie right in our path.

The psalmist reminds us that to walk in God’s path of right living means that we need to “see” or be aware of these hazards right in front of us.  If you don’t think you know what these hazards are, take a moment to think about all the things we think and do and feel that are contrary to God’s will for our lives. 

The psalmist says that the word of God casts light on these obstacles to whole living. Like navigating any highway, some things you’ve just got to go around and avoid. Other problems are like potholes that need to be filled with solid material and paved over. Some issues, like a tree across a road, need to be sawed up and completely removed.

At the same time, when we’re walking in the dark or driving down a dark road, we want to have some idea of what’s farther ahead.

Go back to the same road on which you’re traveling after the kid’s swim meet. Sometimes (especially after using low beams), you are satisfied that you’re aware of the nature of the immediate road before you. Your view of the immediate stretch of highway tells you that nothing presents a danger to you and the occupants traveling with you.

So you switch to high beams. Now, the road far ahead of you is in the light. You can see the curve to the left that’s coming. Instantly, you can determine whether a long stretch of straight road is before you, or whether the road twists and turns. You now know what you need to prepare for. Is the road predictable, or is it wild and uncertain?

God’s word certainly is not a crystal ball that gives us a glimpse into our future. But it does cast light on best practices that are most likely to result in a life well-lived, a life without the extreme curves, dips and valleys. The high beams of God’s word show us that a well-lived life is one

  • that is given in service to others;

  • in which words are used to encourage;

  • in which we are outrageously kind and generous;

  • in which we try to make life less difficult for others; and

  • in which we are grateful for the smallest of blessings.

 

These benefits of the light and lamp accrue to the traveler on one and only one condition: The light must be focused on the path. If you shine your light on the bushes, hedges and trees to the right or the left to see if there might be dangers lurking there, you very well may stumble and hurt yourself. If you’re walking in the dark, keep the light trained on the path!


Preachers will know what I’m talking about when I say that things can come to mind in the process of preparing a sermon.  I’d been thinking about the images of dark and light, about the path right in front of us and the path up ahead, and all of a sudden the words of a song by Amy Grant I’d learned when I was in my church’s youth group popped into my head.  Maybe it’s already rattling around in yours…

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.  When I feel afraid, think I’ve lost my way, still you’re there right beside me.”  And then I couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics, so I Googled it!

“And nothing will I fear as long as you are near, please be near me to the end.”  Another verse says,

“I will not forget your love for me and yet my heart forever is wandering. Jesus be my guide and hold me to your side; I will love you to the end.”

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Nothing will I fear as long as you are near.
Please be near me to the end.  Please be near us to the end.

Amen.

 

Rev. Lisa Drysdale
 

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