What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-10-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-10-21

A few weeks ago I was driving home from church when I noticed that something was different about the right rear of the car. Flat tire? I didn’t hear the sound of a rim rolling on the pavement, so I wasn’t sure. I was almost home, so I just continued driving until I pulled in the driveway. Sure enough, the right rear tire was deflated but not flat. I was short on time, so instead of putting the doughnut on myself I called AAA. When the AAA guy took the tire off he showed it to me. A patch of the rubber outer layer had worn clear through exposing the steel belts beneath. When I brought the car to the shop to get the tire replaced the mechanic explained that when the wheels are out of alignment the tires wear unevenly. If you don’t catch it in time you get blowouts like the one I got. Alignment is key to keeping your tires in good shape for driving.

Our theme for the third Sunday of Advent is “Those Who Dream Sow Joy.” The Scripture is once again from the prophet Isaiah. The context for this particular prophecy is the return of the exiles from Babylon to their homes in Judah. Earlier prophecy had created in them great expectations for what their return would be like–comfort, rejoicing, salvation–all the good stuff. What they found upon return was a homeland in shambles. Rebuilding was slow and difficult. Even more challenging than putting roofs over their heads was reweaving the torn social fabric that had made their homeland a home in the first place. Those who had dreamed of returning were becoming disillusioned. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe they should have stayed in Babylon. To these folks the prophet says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD to display his glory. . . .  For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to grow up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before the nations.”

What do tires and exiles and oaks have in common? Alignment. I think we can all resonate with the frustration and disappointment of the exiles. Rebuilding is hard. The obstacles between our dreams and reality often seem insurmountable. The prophet is inviting us to shift our view: to see rebuilding as replanting. Creating a sense of belonging is an organic process. Our role is simply to plant seeds of hope, love, and justice. Our role is to turn the soil of our hearts, to tend the gardens of our relationships. God will bring fruit in its time. Our job is simply to align ourselves with God. The process itself will do the heavy lifting. This is why Jesus can say, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden. Take my yoke upon yourselves and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This is not to say that alignment with God doesn’t require anything of us. In fact, it requires everything. It requires us to pray as Jesus did, “Not my will but your will be done.” Nevertheless, living in alignment with God and one another allows us to tap into the source of all things–a limitless energy that causes the plants to grow and the fish to swim and our hearts to sing with praise.

Years ago I attended a church vitality conference. One of the speakers was the pastor of a small New Hampshire church that had experienced a dramatic turnaround. A congregation in shambles had become vibrant. Someone asked the pastor her secret. She said, “I follow the energy.” Where do you find life energy in and around you? How can we align ourselves with the new life God is always already bringing forth? When we continually keep these questions in mind, we will find ourselves continually sowing seeds of joy.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-5-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-5-19

I’m swamped. The theme for the Second Sunday of Advent is peace, but how does one cultivate peace in the midst of chaos, conflict, and the everyday pressures of a to-do list that only gets longer? This is not a rhetorical question. Let me know!

Too often in popular culture peace tends toward the kitschy and clichéd: quiet woods, sandy beaches, laughing children, sleeping puppies, lamp-lit snow-covered villages. Bourgeois fantasies of escape tinged by nostalgia. Those aren’t particularly Biblical images of peace, thank God. While I love a walk in the woods or on a beach as much as the next person, I need peace when I’m sitting in front of my laptop or in a meeting with leadership. 

The prophet Isaiah writes, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah then goes on to describe a divine king who will “with righteousness judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” This king’s power will be such that it extends beyond the human sphere to bring an end to violence among animals and between animals and humans. 

Peace begins with a stump and a shoot. What made the stump? In the context of Isaiah, the stump is an image of the Davidic lineage cut down by exile. This suggests to me that peace is an expression of a life force that the devastating violence of human empire will never be able to eradicate. 

Nicole and I bought our current house on short sale. The backyard was overgrown with trees of all kinds. The health of our backyard mini-forest required that we thin the trees, so we had a bunch of the smaller ones cut down. The next spring, of course, the stumps started sending up new shoots. So I rented a chainsaw and a stump grinder and ground the stumps below the soil line. Even after that, many of the ground down stumps continued to send up shoots. So I dug around the stumps and cut them out by the roots. Oh my goodness, so much work. Peace is a stubborn pain in the ass!

Isaiah concludes his vision of peace with another powerful image: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Biblical peace isn’t primarily a sandy beach or a snowy woods. It’s the bone deep knowledge that you, I, and the entire universe, no matter what devastation we may face can be cut off from life in God.