January 12, 2021 – Barb Haddon

Soul food for Tuesday, January 12

We all hoped that 2021 would turn out to be a better year. Oh well. But no matter what the new year brings, we are still the beloved children of God, and we still remain faithful to the King of Kings!

Morning Psalm 42

1   As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2   My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3   My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
4   These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5   Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7   Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8   By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9   I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10  As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
11  Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

MEDITATION

One of the wonderful things about the Psalms is that they cover every possible human emotion  Some are exultant praises, and others are songs of deep lament.  Psalm 42 covers the gamut, and it resonates with what we may be feeling after last week’s events.

There’s a contemporary hymn that is based on this Psalm, and it is one of my favorites.  The words are,   “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you.  You alone are my strength and shield, to you alone will my spirit yield….”

Despite this longing on the part of the Psalmist, he is feeling apart from God. “My tears have been my food day and night.”  Further, he is mocked by non-believers who say, “Where is your God?”

And so, the psalmist remembers the good times; the processions into Jerusalem with shouts of praise, the truly awesome power of God in nature, the steadfastness of God despite all of the ills to which Israel was subjected.  Despite the fact that he feels forgotten by God, he continues to hope in God and knows that his voice will once again bring praises.

There’s a message for us here.  Despite the tension and violence that we are currently encountering, “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.”  Others may question how we can still believe, may wonder where God is in the turmoil.  Yet, we know the “still, small voice.”   We know the God who has claimed us as children of the Almighty.  Like the Psalmist, we know that our hope is in God, and that we will continue to praise and worship even when the world seems dark.

May you know hope and trust in the days to come.

PRAYER

Almighty God, there are times when it is hard to see your face.  There are times when even WE ask, “where are you?”  May we fell your presence sure and steady within us, giving us courage to do what is right, to push back in the face of wrongdoing, seeking to love as you love, and serve as you serve.  Amen.


December 31, 2020 – Murray Richmond

It’s New Year’s Eve 

 What do you think God has in store for you in the coming year?

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

Tonight we will finally say good bye to 2020, a year that will live in infamy. This year was full of pandemics and lockdowns, we wore masks in public, and we said goodbye to public, corporate worship. It was a year of social unrest, from Black Lives Matter to the Proud boys and other private militia groups. One of the most stable parts of our Democracy, our elections, were questioned, and millions of people believe the last election was rigged.

And tonight we will say good bye to all that.

Well, not really. It is not like any of that will magically go away at the stroke of midnight. We will wake up tomorrow in a world that was pretty much like it was today.
But the words of Isaiah bring us hope. This is a New Year, and God is doing a new thing. We do not know that will be. And it may take the eyes of faith to see it.

Isaiah preached these words to a people who were in exile. They could not believe that God would bring them home soon, but that is exactly what happened.

While we cannot truly forget the former things, we can stop dwelling on the past. We can look for the New Thing that God is doing. What do YOU want to see God do this year?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

What do you think God has in store for you this year? May we all press to win the prize God has for us!


December 30, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for December 30, 2020

Many people make New Years Resolutions. Today we look at the first part of how to do this before God. First, know what you need to change!

John 7:53-8:11

7:53Then each of them went home,
8:1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Meditation

If you think you have heard this story in Soul Food recently, you are right. Most of the readings for Soul Food come out of the Daily Lectionary, a series of readings established by a wide group of religious leaders. And this reading comes up twice in the year.I’m not sure why the people who made up the daily lectionary wanted this to appear twice, but I think this is a good reading for this day of the year.

We are heading into a New Year, and like most people I cannot wait for 2020 to be over. It was a rough year. Did you know that at 12:01 on January 1, hindsight will be 2020! (feel free to groan at that!) This story from the Gospel of John shows us how to use our hindsight.

A woman is brought to Jesus. She has been caught in the act of adultery and is clearly guilty. In the Old Testament, the penalty for adultery is death by stoning, a particularly gruesome way to die. Part of the story concerns the people who brought her. They are trying to discredit Jesus, and they are using this woman to do so. They are not concerned about her, or even her sin. She is just a pawn in their game.

But Jesus turns his attention from the woman to her accusers.  “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” In other words, “You say she is a sinner and should be punished. What about you and your sins?” Some commentators suggest that Jesus is writing a list of sins in the sands, sins they have all committed. They leave, one by one, starting with the older men first.

Only then does Jesus turn his attention to the woman. “Is there any left who condemns you?” he asks. Then he says two powerful sentences.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

If we look back on the past year, we will see areas where we “not done what we should have done, and done what we should not have done.” We will see where we let our pride get in the way, where we have depended on the wrong things, and not on God, where let our negative attitudes crowd out the love of God, and where we have done things intentionally that we knew were wrong.  We will see Jesus writing our sins in the sand.

But, does Jesus condemn us?

No. As Paul writes in this letter to the Romans, “31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”

As we look back on the past year (and I suggest we do that) we will things we did that we knew were wrong, and if we look deeply, we will see how our own prejudices and biases led us to faulty thinking. It is helpful to know where we have done wrong.
But we look back to fulfill the words of Jesus to the woman—go and sin no more. We take a serious look at where we went wrong so we can get ourselves in the right place, so we can do the right things. And we can do this the confidence that Jesus does not condemn us, even as he encourages us to go forth, and sin no more.

Prayer

Holy God, we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. But we focus, not on where we went wrong, but on where you call us to right. Help us to see our wrongs, so we can know them and turn from them. Help us to turn continually to your grace.
Amen.


December 29, 2020 – Barb Haddon

John 7:37-52

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42 Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43 So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” 46 The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” 47 Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? 48 Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, 51 “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

MEDITATION

In this passage, the baby whose birth we have just celebrated is now an adult, who has just preached in the temple during the Festival of the Booths.  The Jewish authorities were already looking for an excuse and an opportunity to arrest and kill him, but he spoke with such authority that they were afraid to touch him.  On the final day of the festival, Jesus declared himself to be Living Water.  During the festival, water was carried in a golden pitcher as a symbol of hope for the coming Messianic deliverance. Jesus turned the symbol into reality, with his declaration that HE was the living water. Some believed at the time, but as always, others doubted, and argued that the Messiah must come for Bethlehem, not Galilee.  (Obviously, his birth history was not well known!)

He was left unharmed by the temple police, who were questioned by the Sadducees and Pharisees regarding their decision not to arrest him.  An interesting touch is that Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had visited Jesus in the dark of night, (and who will later arrange for his burial) defended  him.  “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing does it?”

It strikes me that now, as much as then, we thirst for living water.  We seek the One who can instill courage, assuage our thirst for justice, embolden us to do what is right. We need to take the role of Nicodemus, reminding those in authority that due process is a part of our judicial system, lest mob rule assert its ugly head.  We need to remember the models of John Lewis and John McCain who spoke with courage and acted with conviction.

As the glow of recent Christmas past fades into memory, and we look ahead to a new year, filled with the promise of renewed health, the hope of reduced tensions and violence,  and return to “in person” worship, may we look consistently to the Prince of Peace, the bearer of living water, and may we move with strength to bring justice and peace to those whom we serve.

PRAYER

Amazing God, we come with thanksgiving for the Christmas reminder that you are still in our midst, and that you live and rule regardless of the injustice that seems to prevail.   Give us courage, we pray, to act on the faith that is your gift, that we might do our part in bring the justice that you inspire.  Amen.


December 28, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food is back after a Christmas break! 

I hope you enjoyed your holiday feasts. Here is a spiritual feast for you, written by Barb!

PSALM 2

Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling
12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.

MEDITATION

It feels to me as though this Psalm could have been written today!  There is so much oppression in our day, even in our own country!  As I write, unemployment benefits are running out with no end in sight.  The COVID virus rages with chaos in the distribution plan.  Race relations are deteriorating rather than healing.  National leaders rattle their sabers rather than seeking a lasting peace.

And yet…God reigns!  God laughs at the discord, and reminds us that “unto us a child is born,” Jesus will reign, possessing all of the nations on earth, and he will break the rods of oppression, and dash them to pieces like a piece of broken pottery.

In this “time in between,” when we have celebrated Christmas and await Epiphany, we are invited to “take refuge” in God.  As we bask in the afterglow of angels and stars, we are invited to take the hope that they bring; to do our part to bring relief to the suffering and hope to the hopeless.

Let us rejoice in the knowledge that God’s promises are forever, no matter what.  Let us take comfort the community of faith that we share, and the bonds that unite us in the knowledge that God is among us.

Discord and oppression are fleeting, but God is eternal!  Indeed, we can take refuge in God.  May the new year bring you blessings!

PRAYER
O God,  we confess that we are easily frightened and discouraged and disgusted.  The world seems so close and your presence so distant.  Help us to feel your refuge, and be led by you to create the change that you inspire.  Amen.


December 19, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food, December 19, 2020

We are continuing with the O Antiphons of Advent. Today we are looking at the root of Jesse, who is our deliverer.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Meditation

When we bought our house here on King Street, it came with a huge patch of blackberry bushes in our back yard. This is how I learned that blackberry bushes are one of the world’s most persistent plants, second only to kudzu. (Kudzu is an imported plant from Japan that was originally used to keep hillsides along the highways from eroding. It’s nickname is “foot-a-day.”)

The only real way to get rid of blackberry bushes is to take them out by the root. Once the roots take hold in the ground, the berry bushes are here for good.

I always found this particular antiphon a little strange—the root of Jesse. The phrase comes from a text in Isaiah: “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” This
particular antiphon recalls the kingship of Jesus over all the nations in the world.

before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:

Now you would think that the antiphon would use David, not his father Jesse to establish Jesus as Lord of the entire world. After David was the king. Jesse was just his father.

But I think this antiphon teaches us that Jesus is rooted in this world. He didn’t just float down, say some cool things, do so cool things, get into trouble, then head back to Heaven. Jesus is rooted in our world. His presence among us didn’t start in Bethlehem. Jesus was rooted in the creation of the world, and through the line of Jesse, came into this world as a human being. His spiritual nature does not make him less real than the world around us. It makes him more real. C.S. Lewis said that the resurrected Jesus could go through walls (as he did when he appeared to the disciples) not because he was less real than the wall, but because he was more real. It was the wall that was thin and airy, not Jesus.

Jesus is more a part of this world than we are. He is rooted in our world. And that is why He is proclaimed to be Lord of this world. That is why he towers over kings, and that is why He is able to deliver us from the tyrannies of this world.

In Pastor Mike’s email today he recounts various songs of praise for God, and notes that some are accompanied by violent acts—the death of the Egyptians when the Red Sea closed over them, the beheading of Holofernes. Pastor Mike then says, “Violent though it may sound, deliverance wouldn’t be deliverance if the stakes were no higher than a parking ticket.”

Come and deliver us, and delay no longer,” the antiphon says. Think about the world around us. What do we need to be delivered from today? What does our church need to be delivered from? What do you need to be delivered from?

The Root of Jesse is our deliverer! If we follow him he will deliver us from the sins that beset us—indifference and apathy, racism and prejudice, self-righteousness and judgment, violence and hatred.

Come, O Root of Jesse, Come!

Prayer

Come, Root of Jesse, be rooted in us. Be rooted in our lives, be rooted in our congregation, and be rooted in our nation. Deliver us from the things that keep us from your Kingdom.
Amen


December 18, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for December 18

We are continuing with the O Antiphons. Today we look at Jesus as Lord.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Meditation

One of my pet peeves about the way people talk about the Trinity is when I hear people split the different persons into job descriptions. God the Creator (the Father), God the Redeemer (Jesus), God the Sustainer (the Holy Spirit).  Humans are much more than their jobs. I am a minister, but I am also much more than a minister. If I am allowed to be more than a minister, I am pretty sure Jesus can be more than a redeemer.

Today’s O Antiphon show us a side of Jesus that makes some people feel comfortable, and others feel very uncomfortable—Jesus the Lord.  (Adonai is the Hebrew word for Lord.) People who want someone else to make a lot of decisions for them, gravitate to the idea of Jesus as Lord. There is a sense where we all need to hear this.

When I was worshiping with the Quakers in Alaska, I heard one of them say they were forging their own understanding of God, and letting old, authoritarian concepts of the Divine drop to the wayside. When I first heard it, it sounded almost heroic. No more will I follow the dictates of other people’s conception of God. I will find my own God.

The problem was, that person’s concept of God looked suspiciously like they did. God approved of what they approved of, and God held in disdain all things they disdained. One book about the Jesus was reviewed with the words, “The author looked deep into the well of the history of Jesus and saw only a mirror.”

In this antiphon we pray to Jesus as Lord. Not our best buddy. Not the guy on the cross. Not the loving, accepting icon of compassion and toleration. No, today we pray to Jesus as Lord. It was not just the Father who was in that burning bush in the desert. It was not just the Father who handed down the Law for the people. Jesus was also a part of all of God’s revelations to humanity. Jesus embodies the Law and is found in the Law as well as on the cross and in the empty tomb. How all that occurs is fodder for theologians, and I will not afflict you with that.

For us we need to remember that the most common title for Jesus when he was with his disciples was “Lord.” The earliest Christian confession was not “Jesus is savior.” It was “Christ is Lord.” That radical in Rome in the first century because the official Roman policy was that Caesar was Lord, and there were no other lords. Christians died because they affirmed that Jesus, not Caesar was Lord.

Like my Quaker friends, it is too easy to remake Jesus into our own image. In 21st century America we think it is our right to do so! Well, we may have that as a political right, but that does not mean it is a right way of living out our faith in Jesus.
O Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Prayer
O Lord Jesus, as learn more and more about who you really are, helps us to see. This day, help us to see what it means for you to be the Lord of Heaven and Earth. May we bow before you, in loving obedience.
Amen


December 17, 2020 – Murray Richmond

In more liturgical churches, Advent is when the O Antiphons are sung. 

An antiphon is a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain. There are seven of antiphons which are usually sung in vesper services starting on December 17. Each antiphon is a description of an attribute of Jesus. The seven attributes are:

  • 17 December: O Sapientia (Wisdom)
  • 18 December: O Adonai (Lord)
  • 19 December: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
  • 20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • 21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • 22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
  • 23 December: O Emmanuel (With Us is God)

They are often sung in the original Latin.

Most of you have actually sung the O Antiphons, or at least part of them. The Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel is a shortened version of the O Antiphons. For the next seven days we will take them one at a time, and delve into what they mean for us. Today we will be looking at the first, O Sapientia, Latin for O Wisdom.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom,
You came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching from beginning to end You ordered all things mightily and sweetly.
Come, and teach us the way of knowledge.

Meditation

Knowledge, they say, is when you know that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad.

The first O Antiphon is about Wisdom. In many ancient cultures Wisdom is personified. We see that in our book of Proverbs.

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks

–Proverbs 1:20,21

The O Antiphons all center around who Jesus is. No doubt you have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant. One, who was holding the trunk said an elephant is like a snake. Another, who was touching the side of the elephant, said an elephant is like a wall. Another, who was touching his leg, said an elephant is like a tree. They each were right, but they all were wrong because an elephant is more than his trunk, his side, or his legs.

The same is true of Jesus. Some experience the grace of Jesus. They felt a great deal of condemnation, and realized that Jesus forgives them. Some feel aimless, and met Jesus as Lord, the one who turned their lives around. Others experience the unconditional love of Jesus. They are all right in how they experience God, but all need to realize that Jesus is bigger than their experience.

In today’s antiphon, we experience Jesus as Wisdom. Jesus was a teacher. He told parables, he gave warnings, he encouraged people. He took 12 run-of-the-mill people, and trained them, so that one day they could change the world. And they did!

One who has wisdom is able to live well. Jesus teaches us to live well. His teachings are not always easy. But they are essential. Wisdom is the ability to see all the facts, then see beyond the facts. It does not ignore facts, but it uses them and moves beyond them. The facts are what we see. Wisdom teaches us how to see.
We see the world around us and from one perspective it can look like a dog-eat-dog world. But if we follow the wisdom of Jesus, we see beyond. We see people, not as rich or poor, black or white, male or female, but as children of God. We look at nature, and see, not just for example the geological formation of a mountain, but we see God’s work in the mountain.

O Wisdom, Come and teach us the way of knowledge!

Prayer

Jesus, in a world that has lost its vision, help us to see through the eyes of wisdom. Grant that as your presence increases in our lives, we may grow in wisdom.

Amen.


December 16, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for December 16, 2020

Are you preparing a place for Christ in your life?

Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3     the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Meditation

A few weeks ago we painted our kitchen. If you have ever painted a room, you know it is like an iceberg. The painting is just the tip. The real work, prep work, is below the surface. We painted for a day but prepped—taped doors and windows, covered the floor, moved out everything that wasn’t supposed to be painted—for four days.

Sometimes we get the impression that Jesus just suddenly appeared. The Holy Trinity was sitting around in Heaven, and Jesus got bored, and said, “I’m heading down to earth for a bit. See you guys later!”
In fact, all of scripture points us to Jesus, from Genesis to Malachi. In this passage John the Baptist is part of the prep work for Jesus.

     “Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”

Sometimes God, or the work of God, just appears, but more often than not there is intensive prep work going on. Advent is the prep work we do to prepare for God to meet us at Christmas, as is Lent for Easter. To hope for an experience of God without preparing your heart and mind is like hoping you can paint a wall, and nothing else, without prepping the room first.

One of my favorite Christmas carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. I especially like the last verse:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

That is what we are preparing for—Jesus to be born in us. So we pray, and we study and we work in preparation for Jesus to come alive in us. To put a finer point on it, Christ is already in us—in our lives and in our church. We just want to make room for his presence to increase.


December 15, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food for December 15, 2020

Have you felt like there has been a lot of darkness this year? Then this devotional is for you!

ISAIAH 9:2-7

2The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness —
on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

MEDITATION

During 2020, WE are a people who have walked in darkness, and lived in a land of deep darkness.  Racism, political division, fires and hurricanes aside, the COVID virus has plunged us into the darkness of isolation, fear and economic upheaval.  However, like the people of Israel, a light has appeared.  The vaccine is now being administered to health care workers!  It may be only the light of a flashlight, but it is the beginning of change for the better.

As good as this news is, it is not as good as the news that Isaiah forecasts. For them, it was as though they had won a significant battle, that the yoke of oppression had been broken.  The good news was that a child was born!  It was not just ANY child, but one who would carry authority above all others.  He would be counselor, peacemaker, protector.  There would be endless peace, combined with justice and righteousness.

While Isaiah spoke of a child born in his era, and the change that would come for the nation of Israel, we Christians have propelled that good news into the Common Era, and understand that this special baby was none other than Jesus the Christ.  He is, indeed, a mighty counselor, very God of very God, and Prince of Peace.  Unfortunately, we have dimmed his light be failing to follow His way.  Peace is not pervasive, justice and righteousness are in short supply, not only here, but around the world.

We can change that!  WE can be light to the world!  Reading further in the biography of John Lewis, I learn that he was motivated by such people as Martin Luther King, Jr., and social gospel preacher Walter Rauschenbusch. He knew that things were not right.  He saw the gross injustice levied against black individuals and communities, but it was the model of other leaders, both black and white, who inspired him to take enormous risks and become a light in the darkness to others.

There is no lack of models for us, and we see good works around us every day, especially in this Christmas season.  Let hope be reborn in us, and let us take the light of Christmas into the rest of the year!

Peace and joy to you!

PSALM 33:1-5

1   Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
2   Praise the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3   Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts
4   For the word of the LORD is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5   He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.


December 14, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food is a little different today. 

The passage is from First Peter, and Barb will take us on a journey through the text, commenting on various pieces as she goes. Enjoy the journey!

Barb Haddon comments:
We don’t generally hear much from 2nd Peter, written in the late first or early 2nd century, at least 70 years after the death of Jesus.  It was not written by Peter, but perhaps by one of his followers.  The author is concerned about false teachers and teachings, and is eager to preserve earlier Christian doctrines. The following passage echoes the words from Galatians that Murray has been using in his current sermon series.  I will comment on each section as it is read.

1Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
2May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
I echo the second sentence in this section:  May grace and peace by yours in abundance!  During this holiday season, despite the restrictions and the fear and lack of many holiday traditions, the grace and peace of Jesus are still offered in abundance.  Perhaps an after effect of COVID is that we will restructure our priorities!

3His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 
We are, indeed, INVITED  to reorder our priorities!  While are ae tempted to lust for the newest gadgets, the latest technology, and to seek for our idea of the “gold ring,” we are assured that we have been given all we need for life because we know God and are called to goodness.  We are invited to partake in divine nature. That’s a gift worth treasuring!

For this very reason you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Here’s the part that echoes Galatians.  Faith is a gift of God, and that’s the starting point. Then we are encouraged to support that faith, that gift, with goodness.  We are encouraged to look out for the welfare of others, to choose the higher ground in our dealings.  Then, goodness will be supported with knowledge, that our actions will be not only well-intentioned, but supported with factual  information, so that what we do may be grounded beyond our own desires.  Knowledge is followed by self-control, again so that what we choose may be other-oriented, and not based on selfish desires or a need for  public adulation.  Then endurance follows self-control.  When we are seeking to right wrongs, to bring justice, we are in it for the long haul.  Change takes time, and the road is neither straight nor wide.  The godliness follows.  When we are following the teachings and the methods of Jesus, we begin to take on his characteristics of love, patience and endurance!  What follows  is mutual affection, for when we are engaged as Jesus would have us, we find others who are on the same path, and are buoyed up by both mutual support and affection.  I remember that some of my most powerful friendships have come from the days when I was working for the sanctuary movement and for an agency that sought economic justice.  Mutual affection develops into love.  When we care about the same things, when we are united in faith, love is the natural outcome, as witnessed by the affection between Jesus and his disciples.
When we are working actively on the path set before us, the gifts of God are multiplied in our lives and “keep us from being ineffective and unfruitful.” For the type As among us, there are few things worse than being ineffective and unfruitful!

Finally,
For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
The gifts of God are abundant!  The love of God is steady!  The path of God is outlined by the Word of God.  May you find grace and abundance in the journey!

Psalm 40:1-5

1   I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2   He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3   He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

4   Happy are those who make
the LORD their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
5   You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.


December 11, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Sometimes our greatest strength can be our greatest weakness, and our greatest challenges become our greatest strength.

Genesis 50:15-21

15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept,[c] fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Meditation

At the tail end of Genesis, we see this reconciliation story between Joseph and his brothers. They had previously sold him into slavery because they were jealous of him, and he ended up in Egypt where he was able to rise in the ranks. He was in charge of the storehouses of Egypt when the famine came, and his brothers, not knowing he was still alive, came begging to Egypt for food.

And who did they come begging to? Their brother, Joseph. Who forgives them.

Genesis ends with the scene from today’s text. He is once again before his brothers, and once again he is affirming his forgiveness. In the process he says something very interesting. “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

When Joseph was sold, his brothers did it to hurt him. Little did they know their act of evil would, in the end, save their family from starvation.

The COVID virus is evil. Of that we are sure. It is a parasite that damages or even kills its host. It has brought unprecedented chaos on our society.

COVID may be evil, but God can use it for good.

How, you may ask, can God use COVID for good?
One of the things that churches are learning in the early 21st century is that congregations that cannot get outside of their own walls are on a slow path to death. It used to be the case that people will seek out a church. Now the church needs to seek out people.

Blogger Andy Vaughn writes:
The Church must leave the building. She must get out of the confines of the local tabernacle and get out and do what she’s here to do.
Set the captives free.
Make much of the God-man Jesus.
Ransom the lost with the ministry of reconciliation.
She was never intended to stay locked behind closed holy doors for potlucks and Bible studies only. She was designed to be a living and breathing entity that is so full of love, the world can’t help but notice her radiant glory. Like an eagle that stays in the nest, she’ll never reach the heights of her splendor until she steps out of the comfort of what she’s always known.

Before Jorge Bergoglio was elected to become the next pope, he gave a speech to the cardinals in the papal conclave. He referred to the passage in Revelations that says Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He said that he knew this passage referred Jesus knocking at the doors of our hearts and of our churches wanting to get in, but, he added, what if he is also standing at the doors of our churches, knocking to get out into the world?

COVID has pushed us outside of our four walls, outside of our comfort zone. While our building is important, the extent that we rely on it is the extent that will hinder our growth. Consider this a dry run for when COVID is over. COVID meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good.

Like you, I cannot wait to get back to our beautiful sanctuary, and to having people drop by the office, and our fellowship hall, where we worship and house the food bank. But I know we need to have both and inward and an outward focus. While Jesus is knocking, wanting in, I believe he is also knocking, hoping to get out, taking us with him.

Prayer
O Lord, this year of the Corona virus has been hard on us. But help us to see what you are doing in the midst of it. The virus has not stopped you. Help us to both care for and maintain the gift we have in our building, but also to bring you and your love and grace out into the world.
Amen

December 10, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Do you like cooking shows?

I do, but I also find them frustrating because I want to taste what I see. I also want to taste of the goodness of God, not just see it from afar!

Psalm 34:7-9

The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.

Meditation

In recent years I have become a fan of baking shows. It started with the Great British Baking Show, where bakers compete. Each week one baker is eliminated, until a final winner emerges. The bakers are all uncommonly nice to one another, to the point one late night host said watching the show is like being in your grandmother’s kitchen.

Every week I watch it I wish I could be a judge for it, because the food looks so good! (In fact, my wife ordered one of the show’s cookbooks for me, so I can try my hand at baking some of the recipes.)
It is frustrating to watch the show, and not be able to taste the delicious looking food. I watch the judges taste it, and my mouth waters. But there is no culinary satisfaction for me if I just watch the show. If I want to taste the food I am going to have to bake it myself.

Sometimes I feel that way about God. The Psalmist says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” I read about God’s goodness, but I cannot taste it for myself.

That is not the kind of relationship God desires with us. Our Creator, in whose image we are made, desires for us to taste divine goodness. We are not to sit at the feast, watching others taste the delicious food. We are invited, and God has a plate for us!

So how do we taste the goodness of God. Unfortunately it is not as simple as going to a fancy restaurant and ordering a meal. Worship may be one of the best places to taste the goodness of God, but that has become much harder due to the COVID virus. I think we can all agree that no matter how good our on-line services are, they will never take the place of actually being in worship.

But there are other ways. Can you set aside fifteen minutes a day for God? That is fifteen minutes when you can totally focus on the goodness of God. I have to warn you though, God is some ways an acquired taste. One sporadic fifteen-minute session a week will only go so far. It takes a sustained, daily commitment.

And what are you to do during those fifteen minutes. Listen to God, and speak to God. There are a variety of ways to do that, and I will be glad to give you some, but basically you want to incorporate a reading the from the Bible, a time to speak to God in prayer, and a time of silence when you can listen for what God is saying in the depths of your own heart.

TASTE! And see that the Lord is good.

Prayer

O Lord, may I not experience you from afar. May I not merely hear and read of your goodness. But may I taste, and see that you are good!
Amen.


December 9, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for December 9

This is one of my favorite stories in the New Testament. (Well, one of many!)
Sometimes I think John did not record what Jesus wrote because he just couldn’t see it.

John 7:53-8:11

53Then each of them went home, 1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Meditation

The Gospel of John is not just different from the other three Gospels, it is different from almost all the other literature of its day. What makes it different is not so much what it says, but what it leaves out. And today’s story is not exception.

A woman is brought before Jesus. She has committed adultery, and according to the Jewish law, she should be stoned.

Who is this woman? Where is the man she was with? Why is he not brought before Jesus as well? Is she a married woman who fell in love with someone other than her husband? Or is she someone who was emotionally damaged as a young girl, and responds to the damage with sexual promiscuity? Was she well known to the people, and was she caught in a scandalous affair, or was it a clandestine dalliance?

These questions remain unanswered. Maybe it is because this was such a well-known event, John did not have to name her. Or maybe because the details don’t matter. She could be anyone. She stands for everyone who has sinned against God.

And what was Jesus writing in the sand with his finger? Was it the names of various men who had also slept with this woman, some of whom were standing in the circle of her accusers? Or was Jesus writing a list of sins, which most of the people in the circle had committed? Was he writing a verse from the Torah?

Again, we do not know.

But we know what John wrote—this story. John uses more symbolism than most of the other Gospel writers, and this story seems to stand as a symbol for all who stand condemned by others—no matter what their particular sin is. When we are tempted to condemn others, we are encouraged to see the condemned through the lens of this story. And so see ourselves through the words, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Ironically, that person without sin would be Jesus. Yet he casts no stone. He alone is qualified, but he alone does not condemn her. Nor does he condemn us.

I borrowed money from a friend in high school once, and it was several weeks before I repaid him. It was not that I didn’t have the money. I just didn’t want to use it to pay him back. So I avoided him. When we did see each other, he would ask, “Do you have my $20?” and I would say, “I’ll get it to you tomorrow!” But tomorrow was a long time coming. (To be honest, I cannot remember whether I had repaid him.) And the friendship died.

Sometimes we may feel that way before Jesus. We have done something that we are ashamed of, so we avoid our Lord. But Jesus is waiting for us to come back to him, so he can say to us, “Neither do I condemn you. We’re still friends. Don’t be a stranger.” And then he adds, like a good friend would, “Don’t do that again. For your own sake, go and sin no more.”

Prayer
O Lord, sometimes we come to you trailing our sins behind us. Yet you always welcome us. Help us to embrace your love knowing that we do stand before you condemned, but we always stand before you ready to be made more whole.


December 8, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food for December 8, 2020 

Where Peace and Justice meet!

ISAIAH 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

MEDITATION

I know that we are only half way through Advent, but I am feeling like Auntie Mame –“I need a little Christmas, right this very minute!!”  When life feels as though it is up for grabs, and there is nothing that is a sure thing, it is so comforting and peace-producing to read again Isaiah’s words of promise.

The birth of a child is nearly always good news!  Babies can melt the hardest of hearts, and the promise of new beginnings is the essence of hope. The baby of which Isaiah speaks is especially special!  THIS baby comes with authority, with the wisdom of a wonderful counselor, with the power of God, with the comfort of peace.  That’s an incredible package!

How amazing our God is, to drop this package in the midst of war torn and oppressed humanity!  It is a sign of God’s amazing love, for God must have known that some would worship, and others would doubt, and eventually, there would be a plot to destroy this bundle.  And yet, this tiny baby inspired a movement that has challenged and changed humanity for over 2,000 years!

Now the baton of faith, trust, hope and peace is in OUR hands!  A hint for the peace part comes in verse 7.  Peace is upheld with justice and righteousness, and it is promised forever!  Like all things of God, we need to participate!  God has no hands but our hands.  So, if we would seek peace, we must remember that it comes in tandem with justice and righteousness.  History has taught us that when people are oppressed, they become angry, and there is no peace.  The cycle of oppression must be broken, and we are the ones to do it!

Maybe, amid the package wrapping and card sending we can seek ways to become peacemakers, even if starts simply with one-on-one.  Maybe we need a little John the Baptist, after all, mixed with the optimism of Auntie Mame.  Prepare the way!!

PRAYER

O God, we are awed by the gift that you gave in Jesus.  Teach us to be faithful followers, preparing yet again for his presence among us.  Give us courage to be peacemakers, that all may live in the light of your love.
Amen.


December 7, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food for December 7, 2020

Barb continues where the sermon left off yesterday–the peace that Jesus gives us.

JOHN 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

MEDITATION

Both historically and contemporaneously, peace seems illusive.  Political peace is often brokered after a war, or tenuously achieved after careful negotiation between parties, both corporate and personal.   Inner peace seems even more difficult to achieve, and often seems fleeting.  Yet, it is a basic component of strength.

I have just started to read the biography of John Lewis.  Though he was often the victim of violence, his goal was to bring peace.  He advocated for human rights through peaceful demonstrations, and urged his followers not to resort to violence, but to stay the course of peace in the interest of justice.  As a leader, he was sure of his cause, determined to stay the course, and despite the assaults against him, he knew inner peace, and was not afraid.

Murray said in his sermon yesterday that one must be stable to be at peace.  One must be sure of oneself in order to extend peaceful overtures to another.  That certainty comes, not only from self -confidence, and an assurance that one is on the right path, but the true source of inner peace which comes from Jesus.  He saw his disciples waver.  He was aware of their timidity and uncertainty.  He knew that when left the earth they would be confused and frightened.  Knowing them intimately, his parting gift to them was peace.  It must have been “the peace that passes understanding.”  It was peace that went beyond self -confidence;  an inner sense of well-being that brought with it the confidence to take action that they would not have thought possible.   As a result, they were not afraid.  Like John Lewis, they endured persecution without turning back.   Jesus’ gift to them was courage undergirded by peace.

As followers of Jesus, the same gift is granted to us.  We are living in tough times with political division, the haunting reality of COVID, the frustration of traditions blunted, travel thwarted, and normal interactions prohibited.  It is difficult to find peace in the midst of the turbulence.  Remember, however, that Jesus said that his gift of peace is not as the world gives!  His peace goes deeper, is centered in our innermost being, and gives us the ballast to be stable, and the courage to extend peace to others.  It enables us to reach out, to be merciful and to work for justice, and to not be afraid.

PRAYER

Loving God, we confess that we ARE afraid; that peace seems illusive.  In this Advent season, when we lean into your presence, bring to us that peace that passes understanding, realizing that understanding is not the goal, but being centered in You is the goal.  Help us to live with you at our core, trusting, and finding the strength to not be afraid.
Amen.


December 4, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for December 4

We are making our way to Christmas! Do you have any Advent traditions of your own? My wife and I used to do Advent Calendars with goodies for each day. When I was growing up, my family had their own advent wreath.

Maybe this advent you can read through the Gospel of Luke, or one of Paul’s letters. I read Maryt’s Song, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) every morning in Advent.  Anything that helps with your spiritual growth is a profitable advent tradition!

Luke 21:1-4

1Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

MEDITATION

When I was in college, we had dorm games, where each floor competed against the other floors. One of the events was a tug of war. I didn’t take part in that, figuring that my then-scrawny 125-pound body wouldn’t make any difference. So I watched from the sidelines. We had a couple of real bruisers on our floor, and I figured they could win easily.

But it was close, very close, and then I watched as my team lost ground. As they were pulled toward the mud pit, one of largest of the team members yelled at me, “Get your *%$#@ butt over here and help us!” I joined in.

Then an amazing thing happened. The match begin to turn. Suddenly, the other team started to lose ground, and it was not long before they found themselves mired in the mud pit.

I didn’t have much, but I had enough.

As we think about what we give to God, we may be tempted to think that we don’t have much. But we have enough. The difference between my story and the one in the Gospels is that giving to God is never measured by results. My effort turned out to be successful because we won. But giving to God is not part of some divine competition. “If you give your pittance to the church, that will be just enough to put us over the top!” No.

We give to God out of grateful heart. To be honest, nothing we give could compare to what God has already offered to us.  What God gives is eternal life, and that is more than just a celestial fire-insurance policy that is a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Eternal life starts with us in the here and now. We share God’s Spirit, we partake in the Divine communion of the Trinity, Christ dwells richly in our hearts. In other words what God gives us is a relationship with our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

You may be thinking, “I am at the end of my life. I don’t have much to give.” Give what you can—to God. If all you have is your grief, give your grief to God. If all you have is your weakness, give that to God. If all you have is your loneliness, or your physical or mental afflictions, give that to God.

In other words, give to God all of who and what you are!


December 3, 2020 – Murray Richmond

This one is structured a bit differently. I make comments on the text as I go instead of one meditation at the end.

Isaiah 2:5-22
5O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!


Yesterday I wrote about the renovations God is doing in the Kingdom, the Church. Today’s passage starts with how we enter into the work that God is doing. “Walk in the Light of the Lord.”  This echoes the passage in Micah: 

..what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

If we want to be a part of what God is doing, we must walk with God. What does that mean? How do we walk with God? In a culture where cars were not invented, people did a lot of walking. Walking with someone meant sharing part of your life with them. We walk with God when we share our lives with out creator, and when we allow God to dwell in us. 


6For you have forsaken the ways of your people,
O house of Jacob.


So now we see why God needs to do a demolition project. The people have forsaken God. They are no longer walking with their Creator. They have been ignoring the God who liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They have forgotten the covenant God made with them. They are going their own way, oblivious to where God wants them to go. 


Indeed they are full of diviners from the east
and of soothsayers like the Philistines,
and they clasp hands with foreigners.
7Their land is filled with silver and gold,
and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
and there is no end to their chariots.
8Their land is filled with idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their own fingers have made.
9And so people are humbled,
and everyone is brought low —
do not forgive them!


This long section details the many ways the people have abandoned God. they have started to follow idols, they have put their trust in wealth and power, and not in God. Some say the Church today has put her faith into the Three B’s: Buildings, Budgets, and Bodies. The richer a church is in these things, the more successful the church. Is it possible our trust in the Three B’s supplants our trust in God?


10Enter into the rock,
and hide in the dust
from the terror of the LORD,
and from the glory of his majesty.
11The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
12For the LORD of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high;
13against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
14against all the high mountains,
and against all the lofty hills;
15against every high tower,
and against every fortified wall;
16against all the ships of Tarshish,
and against all the beautiful craft.
17The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.
18The idols shall utterly pass away.
19Enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from the terror of the LORD,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
20On that day people will throw away
to the moles and to the bats
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
21to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts in the crags,
from the terror of the LORD,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
22Turn away from mortals,
who have only breath in their nostrils,
for of what account are they?


This is the detailed demolition plan–to humble the haughty. We see it here in Isaiah, but we also see it in other places as well. In Mary’s song in Luke, she says: 

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

God is not a fan of hubris. In the story of the Tower of Babel, people got a little too big for their britches, and thought they could build their way up to heaven. They missed a wonderful and fearful thing–God comes down to us. If we insist on building our way up to God, based on our own accomplishments, we will at best pass God, who is on the way down to us. The work of God in Jesus was good news, but it comes to us at cost. You have to let go of your pretentions. You have to trust in God. 


December 2, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Wednesday’s Soul Food

In the previous passages from the first chapter of Isaiah we hear God say that some demolition work is on the horizon. Today we see why!

Isaiah 2:1-4
1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2     In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3          Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4     He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Meditation

As some of you know, the Richmond household has been in kitchen renovation mode since last February. When we bought the house, we knew we were going to do this, because we were not so fond of the kitchen as it was.

So in early March, we demo’ed the kitchen. Completely gutted it. Everything went, from the cabinets to the sink and stove. I wish we could have done it in stages, but that was impossible. In order to get the kitchen we wanted and needed, the old had to go. (When COVID hit, I really wished we could have done it in stages!)

Demo, then reno. Demolition, then renovation.

Chapter one of Isaiah was full of gloom and doom. It was basically God announcing a renovation project that would require a full demo for it to be successful. In chapter two we are able to see what the finished project should look like. God is doing a spiritual renovation but the spiritual demolition has to come first.

Demolition, even spiritual demolition is hard, messy work. It is hard to let go of things. When we demo’ed our kitchen there were parts of it I really missed. When God has to do some demo work on the Church that is a hard, messy process. The Reformation was, in many ways, hard on the church of Jesus Christ, for both Catholics and Protestants. It led to the Thirty Years War in Germany and other conflicts throughout most of Europe.

I think God is doing some demo work of the American Church, and the Presbyterian Church. We are undergoing changes, the likes of which we have not seen before. And it is hard. I could hazard a few guesses as to why God is doing demo work on the Church, but in the end I think it is because we have become too cozy with the world as it is, and have lost sight of the unique nature of the Kingdom of God.

More than once I have heard Presbyterian pastors say they feel like hospice workers for a dying denomination. With all due respect, I disagree with them. I think we instead midwives, helping to deliver a new birth for the Church. Back before ultrasounds people had no idea what their baby would be like—they didn’t even know if it would be male or female. So it is with the Church today. I have no idea what is being birthed, but I know that something new is coming.

And I am excited to be a part of the process.

Demo work is hard, and the Church is experiencing that today. So why does God have to do it?

Well, let me say it this way. We have almost finished our kitchen reno, and we love it! It is the kitchen we always wanted! The same will be true, I am sure, of what God is doing to the Church today. Beating swords into plowshares is hard work. But imagine what the world could be like!

Prayer:
 O Lord, throughout history you have done demo and reno work with your people. Help us not to resist what you are doing, but to join in, with joy and excitement, eager to see what the finished product will be. Amen

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